The bicameral Parliament of India came into being with the first general Elections held in 1952. However, its antecedents can be traced back to the pre-Independence era. The Parliament of India comprises of President, Lok Sabha, and Rajya Sabha. It is the supreme legislative body of India. Let’s see how Indian Parliament has declined over the years.
As the deliberative and representative assembly, its role in developing India has been crucial. But over several decades there has been a decline in the effectiveness of the Parliament as an institution of accountability and oversight. The instruments of accountability, the Parliament uses such as the committee system, motion on the floor etc have become increasingly dysfunctional. The declining standards of debates, decorum and discipline are very much evident. The nexus between politicians and business groups also degrades the parliamentary process.
As a result, the image of Indian Parliament has suffered a serious setback in the recent years. The decline of Parliament has taken an unprecedented rise due to the following-
Decline in the Duration of Parliamentary Deliberations –
The number of sittings of Parliament during a session, the number of hours of each sitting and the number of transactions done by Parliament have all declined drastically.
Decline in number of sittings in Indian Parliament-
The number of days of the sitting of Parliament has declined over the years. Compared to the 1950s, the number of sittings of Parliament had declined by a third.
According to the analysis of PRS Legislative Research (PRS), against the average 127 days of sitting in the 1950s, Lok Sabha met only 74 times in 2012. Likewise, Rajya Sabha on an average meets 93 days a year in the 1950s. But it has reduced to merely 74 days in 2012. The number of Lok Sabha sessions that took place during the winter session was 23 which is way less than last few years. In the year 2011, both houses sat down for the total of 23 days which is the lowest number of sitting in a non-election year in last 2 decades.
2. Decline in number of hours per sitting in Indian Parliament –
The number of hours per sitting of Parliament to has declined. The fifth Lok Sabha recorded an average sitting of 7 hours 38 minutes; the 7th Lok Sabha recorded an average sitting of 7 hours 9 minutes per sitting. In the 12th Lok Sabha, the average hour per sitting was only 6 hours 30 minutes.
3. Decline in the duration of budget session in Indian Parliament –
The budget session acts as the mechanism of accountability to ensure the parliamentary control over the executive and hence, is of crucial importance. Unfortunately, in the last few decades, there has been a rapid decline in the duration of the budget session in Lok Sabha. In 2006 Lok Sabha, more than 40% of bills were passed without even an hour of debate. In the year 2012, both Houses met for only 35 days but the irony is that 92 percent of budgetary proposals were put to vote without any discussion. Measured in terms of government tenure, the number of bills being passed by Lok Sabha in the past decade has seen a 20-40% drop.
Because of the declining trends in the number of sittings and hours per sitting, voices of concern have expressed that there should be a legally determined minimum number of sitting and hours for which Parliament should meet so that it could perform its functions effectively and properly.
Source: Annual Report, 2012-13, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs
*2014 govt. data is till 25 November 2015
Decline in the attendance of the Parliamentarians in Indian Parliament –
A striking indicator of the malfunctioning Parliament is that now parliamentary sittings take place even when the quorum is not there. As per Article 100(3) and Article 100(4), one-tenth of the total membership of the house constitutes the quorum and till that quorum is reached the Speaker will have to adjourn the meeting till a quorum is achieved. But we find that Speakers have turned their eyes away from the necessity of having the quorum for the sitting to proceed. Perhaps this is because the member absenteeism is widespread. In 1982, only 23 members were present in the Lok Sabha to pass a Finance Bill. There is also an instance of parliamentary sitting taking place with mere 11 members in the house.
As per the PSR report, during the 11th and 12th sessions of the fourteenth Lok Sabha, more than 75 percent members were below the median point of 16 or more days of attendance. The number of MPs whose attendance ranged from 0–5 days increased in the 12th session. Even in the fifteenth Lok Sabha, there were only seven out of 545 members having 100 % attendance. During the 14th Lok Sabha overall attendance of Ms. Sonia Gandhi was 36 percent. Similarly, Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, and Navjyot Singh Sidhu have been found of having less than 30% attendance in between May 2011 and May 2012.
The presiding officers have generally ignored the quorum requirement, but that has only contributed to the declining prestige of the house. Widespread absenteeism among parliamentarians also suggests that a large number of MPs do not think that Parliament is really effective.
Decrease in the number of questions answered in Indian Parliament –
The first hour of everyday sitting has been earmarked for asking questions from executives under the rules of procedure and conduct of the business of parliament called the ‘question hour’. In the recent years, the question hour has often been interrupted.
- In 2009 session of Lok Sabha, out of 1100 questions admitted for question hour, only 266 were called in the house while rest could not be raised due to the paucity of time. Even, out of these 266 questions, in 57 questions enquiring MP was not present so only 209 questions were orally answered.
- In 2010 Monsoon Session of the Parliament out of 480 starred questions, only 4 questions were answered orally while rest 476 were answered in written form due to frequent disruptions in Parliament and other issues being discussed in question hour. Similarly in Rajya Sabha not even a single question was answered orally.
- Similarly, in 2012 only 144 questions in Lok Sabha and 157 questions in Rajya Sabha being answered orally, while others were left for written answers due to the paucity of time as a result of frequent disruptions.
Declining standards of debates in Indian Parliament
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “conversation and debates are the souls of Parliament”.
- But the unruly scenes in both the house, and parliamentarians shouting at one another instead of debating depicts a different story.
- The declining standards of debates in Parliament and the manner in which parliamentarians conduct themselves, forgetting that there is a huge difference between a fight on the floor of the house and a fight on the streets are pointers towards the lack of ability or merit in the parliamentarians.
- Last year, the winter session which began on November 16, had 22 sittings. However, both the Houses failed to conduct any meaningful business as protests over demonetization continues to disrupt proceedings. The government had listed 10 important bills to be discussed and passed out of which only four bills were cleared in the session.
- The matter of misbehavior and indiscipline within the House had become so serious that Parliament in 1992 convened a Special Forum for the sole purpose of discussing the need to maintain decorum and discipline within the House.
- Five years later, in 1997, the primary legislative business of the special session of the Parliament had to pass a unanimous resolution calling for greater discipline within Parliament. Then again in November 2001, the all-India Conference of presiding officers and parties adopted a 60-point code of conduct guidelines aimed at sanctioning grave misbehavior with suspension. This resolution was unanimously supported by 300 leaders from all parties both at the federal and sub-national level. But when the Prime Minister asked the opposition not to resort to any step that would erode democratic values, the leader of the opposition Sonia Gandhi retorted that ‘a great deal of disruption’ in Parliament was due to the government’s reluctance to face the House on controversial matters. The situation till today has seen no improvement. The cost of the parliamentary time lost is estimated to be around Rs 75 million each session.
It is very much evident with the speech of our ex-President Mr. Pranab Mukherjee when he expressed his worry over declining debates and standards of Indian Parliament. For any strong democracy, it is very important Parliament function more efficiently and great issues should be discussed.