Just as government is accountable to Parliament, Parliament as the highest legislative office of India owes its accountability to the people of India, the highest sovereign authority in a democracy. We are witnessing a steady decline in the use of productive time of Lok Sabha over the years. Frequent distractions in the Parliament reduced Question Hour in both houses, a time customarily used by MPs to ask questions and hold ministers accountable for the functioning of their ministries. The opportunity for holding the government answerable is persistently lost. The parliamentary decline is not the unique case of Indian exceptionalism. The highly professed, once entrenched parliamentary system is in crisis throughout the world. How can the people holding the highest offices in the Indian democracy be made accountable for the governance and financial setbacks caused by distractions, deadlocks and stalemates in Parliament? Overarching Parliamentary reforms seem inevitable in light of the challenges that Indian democracy is facing today. In such a scenario, this paper suggests that there is an urgent need to take the lessons from its own records if not from the world and bring out positive change in the working style of Indian Parliament to ensure its survival. If we are not able to draw serious attention on reforming the parliamentary system, the time is not far off when our Parliament will only be treated as gossip centre like a ‘betel shop’ or ‘barber salon’ where self-styled politicians discuss political issues with no policy or legislative outcomes.
The working of our Parliament in the last two years of NDA regime has undergone several changes. One of the reasons is the absolute majority of the ruling party and decimation of opposition parties in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In general, the working of the Parliament during the present NDA government has slightly improved comparing the past years of Post-Nehruvian phase. Nonetheless, the present paper aims to analyze the working of Indian Parliament from 1952 to 2014. Strangely, the pivotal position the Parliament once held in the Indian political system is not there anymore. The growing dichotomy and the consequent cognitive hiatus between Parliament as an institution of accountability and dysfunctional of our parliamentarians has created doubt on the legitimacy of the claim that parliamentary system is one of the finest mechanism to provide effective and accountable governance. Another flip side of the working of contemporary parliamentary system is income concentration favouring a few and deteriorating quality of life for the vast majority. However, it would be misleading to argue that the present dichotomy of parliament and parliamentarians was prevalent across the phases and the context of democratic politics in India. In fact, this poor narrative of the working of Parliament does not suitably fit the patterns during first one and half decades of Indian democracy.
The achievements of Nehru era have been extraordinary by any standard. This is partly explained by the working style of Jawaharlal Nehru and partly due to the unshaken Congress regime. In this particular context, W.H. Morris-Jones candidly observed that “the way in which parliamentary democracy works, depends more than we might like to admit on the balance of powers between political parties.”[i] Despite the scale of his parliamentary majorities, Nehru emerged as a genuine parliamentarian as he has shown greatest deference and sensitivity to the Parliament. He sought to create an atmosphere of trust and consultation with opposition.[ii] For him, Parliament was not only a moral institution but also an emblem of India’s modernity.[iii] Both Parliament and parliamentarians were working with dignity and authority. Records also indicate that the then parliamentarians attend the parliamentary sessions with well preparations and were heard with rapt attention. Outstanding debates were common and functioning of the executive was criticized and debated by the ruling party itself. To put it simply, Nehru is to be credited for setting the vision of Parliament as an institution of accountability and high political relevance. While analyzing the story of Indian Parliament, Morris-Jones found Nehru as a reason behind the successful working of the Parliament while arguing that “Perhaps India without Nehru’s leadership might not so firmly have acquired this political system, might not have been able so quickly to let it take clear shape.”[iv]
Nevertheless, a careful analysis of the parliamentary proceedings, academic writings as well as editorial and opinion pieces in the so-called mainstream media over the last three decades indicate a painful transition from a remarkable deference to the growing insensitivity of our parliamentarians towards not only the parliamentary decorum and decency but the institution as a whole. It might sound strange but the mystery of parliamentary rot is much deeper that one can perceive. There is a substantial change in the vocabulary of parliamentary politics in contemporary India. The frequency of parliamentary disruptions through walk outs has become the norm. The quality time of the Parliament is wasted on trivial political controversies, rowdiness, disorder and theatrics. The parliamentary perversion could also be seen not only in the falling standard of the parliamentarians but also in their marriage with crime, money, scams and demagoguery. Evidence from the parliamentary records also indicates that our parliamentarians are willfully missing the opportunities to strengthen the Parliament through non-participation in parliamentary sittings and debates, question hours, budget-related discussions and what not. The troubling outcome of the declining phenomenon is the growing trust deficit amongst the people of the country and their belief that in the present hands of parliamentarians, Parliament will only rot with each passing day. Thus, the fast growing dichotomy between the parliament and parliamentarians and the consequent nihilism among the people are at the core of this analysis of parliamentary decline in India.
- Preliminary Observations
The realistic appraisal of the working of Parliament in the post-Nehru India is proving the argument of Parliament emerging as an institute of secondary importance. The doctrinaire orientation of recent thinking on Parliament is highly critical. Balveer Arora once argued, and rightly so, that despite all works that Indian Parliament is still doing effectively, a clear decline in its quality is visible, that he attributes to the increasing competitiveness amongst the political parties.[v] Even G. Rubinoff in his work has concluded that after 50 years of working of Indian Parliament, an era of decline has taken over which is evident from present functioning of the Parliament.[vi] While Shankar and Rodrigues believe that there has been a decline in functioning of Indian Parliament by looking at the past time of early 1950’s that may be due to the change in character of representatives being elected in the modern times.[vii]
Given the frequent criticism can we argue that we are living in the final fading years of Parliamentary glory? Is parliamentary decorum and decency no more a priority in contemporary age and time? If yes, then, what are the reasons that could explain the growing irrelevancy and the ineffectiveness of Indian Parliament? However, it is difficult to examine these questions with accuracy. Nevertheless, keeping in mind the focus of our inquiry, seven preliminary observations on the possible reason for institutional decline of parliament call for special attention.
First is what may be called the serious absence of genuine will among parliamentarians themselves to inculcate parliamentary values in one’s personality. Their personal gain is prioritised over the parliamentary image. Parliamentary values are the last thing on their mind as they take Parliament a taken-for-granted institution.
Second, there is the democratic paradox of first-past-the post system which emphasises more upon the numeric dimension on attaining victory in the present competitive politics. The paradox lies in the opportunity for every non-serious candidate with muscular and economic strength having the strong probabilities of winning the parliamentary seat. This is evident from the criminal records of the most of the parliamentarians and their complex nexus with corporate world. Thus expecting civilly guided behaviour from the parliamentarians having criminal records and having vested interest in one’s economic growth is little too much an expectation.
Third, there is the aspect of digitalisation of parliamentary records and televising of parliamentary proceedings. Most of the parliamentary disruptions, walk outs, protests and trivial hungama by our parliamentarians are due to the chance of being seen on TV and the consequent publicity among the electorates of their respective constituencies.
Fourth is the emerging multi party framework due to the rise of strong regional parties helped the Parliament to emerge as platform to debate and discuss the diverse issues and interests most of the time trivial in character and electoral in intent. In doing so matters of high national and political importance are sidelined.
Fifth is the compulsion of coalition politics. Coalition politics set the new trend in India that could be observed in the frequent use of ordinances just to avoid debating legislation with their partners as well as opposition. This is certainly not a healthy practice because the deliberative and representative character of the Parliament is highly compromised.
Sixth is the shifting ownership of our Parliament from people to few entrenched dynastic oligarchs. Parliament, as it appears, has been privatised. Parliamentary hall is treated as drawing room of these oligarchs where everything is taken for granted without any code of conduct. The issues of parliamentary accountability, decency and decorum, debate and discussions are easily sidelined as if these are small inner house family matters.
Last is the growing indifference amongst people of India towards the working of Indian Parliament. While wealth, crime and political power have always colluded to some degree, there comes to a point where apathy, pseudo tolerance and indifference binds the will of the people to a fanatical idea that brings total loss of faith in the efficiency and transparency of their own institution. This situation in India is evident from their helpless acceptance of politicians are like this only. Our parliamentarians are taking advantage of this growing indifference as their rampant unparliamentary behaviour going unchecked.
In these preliminary observations, we hope to have drawn attention to the different aspects that are responsible for institutional decline of Parliament in India. In what follows we have examined the extent of decline vis-à-vis the various essentialities of the parliamentary system from 1952 to 2014.
III. The Extent of Parliamentary Decline
To understand how India will be better able to overcome the parliamentary decline, we need to examine the extent of parliamentary rot. We have limited our analysis only on five scales namely the decline in number of parliamentary meetings and sitting; poor attendance of MPs in parliamentary sessions; poor participation by MPs in parliamentary debates decline in quality of matters being discussed; and poor utilisation of question hour. These aspects will be separately analysed with data in hand in the following order.
[a] Number of Parliamentary Meetings and Sitting Hours
We need to consider four trends when the parliamentary sittings are in question. First, there is a consistent decline in the number of days for which both Houses of Parliament sits every year and time for which deliberations are made for deciding upon question of national relevance has considerably reduced, incomparably, in recent times. As per the recent analysis of PRS Legislative Research (PRS), against the average 127 days of sitting in the 1950s, Lok Sabha met only 74 times in 2012. The story of Rajya Sabha is also not different. Rajya Sabha on an average meets 93 days a year in 1950s. But it has reduced to merely 74 days in 2012.[viii] Worst of all was the winter session of Parliament in 2010. In the Whole session, the Rajya Sabha met just for two hours and 44 minutes, the Lok Sabha for seven and half hour. The number of Lok Sabha sessions that took place during the winter session was 23 which are way less than last few years.[ix] The following graph reflects the decline in number of sittings up to 2010.
- Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named 60 Years of Parliament available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/60-years-of-Parliament-989/.
Interestingly, the highest number of sitting was recorded in year 1956 when Jawahar Lal Nehru was the Prime Minister[x] which has declined considerably till 2010. Morris-Jones examined the extent to which the institution functioned successfully as a component of representative government during the Nehruvian regime.[xi] However, today such a constant decline in number of meetings for a sustained period of time puts a question on seriousness and punctuality of Indian Parliament. Actual days of sitting to deliberate are a third of what they were in the 1950s, even though other aspects of constituency representation such as travelling to and communicating with constituents have gotten easier.[xii] As a result of lack of meetings, number of ordinances being promulgated has increased largely.
- Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named Parliament in 2009 available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/parliament-in-2009-989/.
Second, as a result of fewer deliberations by the Parliamentarians, most of the work is left for the Executive with full discretion in their hands manifested in increasing promulgation of ordinances. This trend is the serious encroachment on the jurisdiction of the Parliament.[xiii] Former Lok Sabha speaker Shivraj Patil once cautioned the government on this issue when he argued that “Ordinance should be promulgated only when absolutely necessary. A responsible Government should be careful about this.”[xiv]
Surprisingly, during the time of Jawahar Lal Nehru, the number of ordinances passed by the President always remained low relatively when comparing to the recent few years, which itself connotes an apparent inefficiency in working of the Parliament in recent years. Impressed with the efficiency of Nehruvian Parliament, Morris-Jones described India’s political system as a “mediating framework for a dialogue between the two inherited traditions of governance and movement.”[xv]
- Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named Parliament in Budget Session 2011 Available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/parliament-in-budget-session-2011-1614/.
Third trend is speedy decline in duration of budget session in Lok Sabha. Undoubtedly, the budget session is of crucial importance. Finance Minister presents the Budget in this session with “details of income & expenditure, allocation to various heads of expenses, special concessions, taxation details, etc.” The budget session also makes the Finance Ministers “accountable for the financial health and progress of the country as reflected in the funds allotted for developmental activities.”[xvi]
In the year 2011, both houses sat down for total of 23 days which is the lowest number of sitting in a non-election year in last 2 decades. Even the number of sitting hours as against availability of practical working hours has declined marginally. However, in the year 2012 both Houses met for 35 days which is marginally higher than the previous sessions. But the irony is that 92 percent of budgetary proposals in 2012 were guillotined i.e. put to vote without any discussion. While in 2011, 81 percent of demands were guillotined. Mehta, in this regard, aptly remarked that Parliament has become “increasingly unprofessional, passing budgets with almost no scrutiny which is a clear sign of decline.”[xvii] He further adds to it by saying “in any case point is that India is democracy, and the budget is one of the major policy statements of a democracy, so elected leaders should be paying attention.”[xviii] Even other scholars have also given a critique of Indian Parliament by concentrating on the decline of Parliament’s role in budget planning.[xix]
- Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named Parliament in Winter Session 2010 Available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/parliament-in-winter-session-2010-1426/.
- Report from Lok Sabha Secretariat- Press and Public Relations Wing released in document named Seventh Session of 15th Lok Sabha- An Overview Available at https://18.104.22.168/statementofwork/statement/statementofwork.pdf.
Fourth trend is the late start of parliamentary session over the years resulting in loss of valuable time required for important discussions.
The review of these four trends with data base clearly indicating the extent of decline in parliamentary deliberations.
[b] Poor Attendance of MPs in Parliamentary Sessions
Absenteeism of our parliamentarians during the sessions is another major challenge that our Parliament is facing. To have a check on this, there is a rule which says every Member of Parliament (MP) is required to sign the attendance register to claim the daily allowances.[xx] But as it appears from the record, absenteeism tends to increase. Three scenarios have emerged on the poor attendance of our parliamentarians. First, most of our parliamentarians are becoming surprisingly reluctant to attend the parliamentary sessions.[xxi] There is a growing tendency among them to treat the sessions casually.[xxii] Evidence could be drawn from their attendance records of different sessions. For instance, 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. As can be seen most of the MPs attended between 11 and 15 days in total. Not only that, the number of MPs whose attendance ranged from 0–5 days increased in the 12th session.[xxiii] Even in the fifteenth Lok Sabha there are only seven out of 545 members have 100 percent attendance.[xxiv]
- Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named Attendance Records of Members of Parliament Available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/attendance-record-of-members-of-parliament-2006-416/.
The data depicts the attendance record in years 2004 and 2005 sessions which reflects a considerable concern. The average attendance is hardly between 70%-75% which is way less than 1950’s. On the other hand attendance used to be much better than the present time during Nehruvian era, due to the fact that MPs were interested in debating upon issues of national importance.[xxv]
Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named Attendance Records of Members of Parliament Available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/attendance-record-of-members-of-parliament-2006-416/.
Second, age-wise analysis indicates, questionably, the similar stories. Absenteeism afflicted the parliamentarians across the age categories, both young and seniors. This is not a healthy trend when even junior members of the parliament showing disrespect to the parliamentary sessions leave alone the senior members. Even the records of so called responsible leaders are miserable. For instance, the overall attendance record of Ms. Sonia Gandhi is 36 percent with participation in three debates during 14th Lok Sabha and 61 percent with zero participation in debates and zero utilisation of Question Hour in 15th Lok Sabha so far. 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.[xxvi]
Third, foreign travel of both ministers and parliamentarians when the session is going on is another concern. Even, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made three foreign trips over 13 days during the 21-day 2009 winter session due to which his attendance has remained very low. In 2007, the then Speaker Somanth Chatterjee came out with concerns against MPs travelling abroad when Parliament is in session. He also communicated to the Prime Minister Singh in writing asking that no Minister travel abroad without the chair’s expressed permission.[xxvii] But no action was taken and situation still remains critical. The principle, “Voicing the constituents’ concerns on the floor of the house is the primary parliamentay duty of an elected representative”,[xxviii] mentioned in the rulebook of Lok Sabha is no longer relevant.
[c] Poor Participation by MPs in Parliamentary Debates
The quality of participation of MPs reflects the proper representation of people in Parliament. Indian Parliament for long time has been known for the kind of discussion that prevailed in the Parliament reflecting national importance. But, in the present times the participation in crucial Parliamentary discussion has decreased at an alarming rate. In 2009, participation in Lok Sabha for passing of bills was very poor. In 2006 Lok Sabha, even an hour of debate did not take place and more than 40% of bills were passed. What is gloomier is that 65% of MPs did not say a word about any legislation during that year.[xxix] This was not the case till Nehruvian time. During this period contentious issues were debated with dignity on the floor of the House. MPs were competing with each other as political rivals, but never allowed to degenerate the House into a chaotic battle ground. All MPs were treated equal in worth and were heard with all seriousness and decency.[xxx]
The biggest casualty is the decline in terms of the quality of debates in the House. This is because the intellectual quotient and political potential of contemporary parliamentarians are also declining significantly. What is astonishing is the fact that 23.2% of those elected to Parliament face criminal charges ranging from murder to extortion and rape. Therefore, it is highly unlikely to expect from such lot to be good debaters.[xxxi]
- Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named Parliament in 2009 available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/parliament-in-2009-989/.
The statistics show even more relative decline in year 2010, when if considering speaking once as criteria than also hardly 60% was average participation. The situation is such that most of the MPs are not raising their voice even once during passing of a bill. In this regard eminent Parliament commentator Arun Shourie says that “these chambers are now not Legislatures that hold governments to account, they are now halls in which the motions are gone through, in which put on melodramas are enacted”[xxxii]
- Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named Participation by MPs in Lok Sabha- Budget Session 2010 available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/mp-participation-in-budget-session-2010-1151/.
The situation is even more critical in case of participation in debates by youths is considered. The relative participation on basis of membership of parties has also been an issue of concern, as reflected by this data.
- Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named MP Participation in Monsoon Session 2010 available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/mp-participation-in-monsoon-session-2010-1281/.
These statistics reflect that lowest participation is done by MPs of Indian National Congress i.e. the ruling party. It is very critical because party which is in power and if participating least in debates than concern is raised regarding quality of laws and policies being framed. The condition of 2009 Winter Session was such that many MPs, including Rahul Gandhi, did not ask even a single question. Same was the condition with Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav from Samajwadi Party, Jaganmohan Reddy of the Congress and Shatrughan Sinha of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).[xxxiii] Hence, the condition is that the ruling party including senior most members is participating least in law making which even raises a question over the kind of Government that is ruling in centre.
It is highly valued in a democratic setup when representatives effectively articulate the interests of their constituents in general policy debates or decision making.[xxxiv] But this principle is also marked by its conspicuous absence given the contemporary parliamentarians are concerned.
[d] Decline in Quality of Matters being Discussed
The quality of matters being discussed in Parliament has declined for a considerable period of time. The matters of public importance have been ignored and not discussed while matters requiring least attention are discussed for long durations. Instead of engaging in qualitative and logical debates, our parliamentarians are treating the Parliament as a platform where they ‘shout to test their vocal chords’. So Parliament is divided in 2 groups; one making the laws and other breaking the laws, thus a serious doubt is raised over the development of country.[xxxv]
- Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named Parliament in 2012 available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/parliament-in-2009-989/.
The condition is such in Parliament that matters of importance such as legislative debates are being discussed least while focus is only on financial matters. Debates regarding social welfare, civil rights, national security are almost ignored. The time given for law making in 2009 was only 165 which is way less than it should be.[xxxvi] After Jawahar Lal Nehru, there has been a steep decline in quality of matters being discussed in the Parliament and the policies framed as a result of these deliberations. Post-Nehruvian generation of Indian leaders, for example Indira Gandhi treated Parliament as a ‘rubber stamp’ for imposing her narrow decisions. Both Rajiv Gandhi and Narsimha Rao also remained least interested in Parliamentary works.[xxxvii]
In an incident that took in 2003, a DMK member was suspended from the House because he tore a policy paper on Police Department near Speaker’s chair. As a result DMK members withdrew from participation in the whole session[xxxviii], that lead to debate on issues of survival of MPs and deprivation of their rights in Parliament that was followed by shouting’s made by Congress MPs.[xxxix] This is one such incidence taking place amongst several instances when no serious matter is being discussed rather totally useless matters of no public importance are being debated. The condition can clearly be proved with the help of following data.
- Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named Parliament in 2012 available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/parliament-in-2012-989/.
Most of the bills discussed in Parliament were passed in a very short duration of time and only few bills were discussed at length. Over the last many decades, the parliamentary records are full of instances of having passed the bills without the procedure for scrutiny and deliberation as laid down by Parliament. The South Asian University Bill, for instance, was introduced in Rajya Sabha, and passed within two days without any debate.[xl] The case in this bill was regarding the higher education which is one of the essential postulates of policy matters to be discussed in the Parliament. So, it is clear that the ideal duty of Parliament is to enact laws by discussing them in length, but here most of the bills are being passed by without carrying any debate or discussions.
- Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named Parliament in 2011 available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/parliament-in-2011-1426/.
As far as working of Lok Sabha is considered, a particular time is allotted for discussion on private member bills. But in this recent session of Lok Sabha most of the private member bills were pending to be discussed, and finally most were not entertained. Concerns in this regard have been even raised by Dr. V. K. Agnihotri (Secratery- General of Rajya Sabha) saying that “during this long Budget Session, not even a single sitting could be devoted to Private Members’ Legislative Business. Hon’ble Members also did not have adequate time to raise Special Mentions or Matters of Public Importance. These trends in the conduct of business have invited adverse comments and lowered the image of the Legislature in the eyes of the public. Correctives have thus become imperative.”[xli]
Parliament in Budget session in 2012- 92% of budget demands were not discussed
- Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named Parliament in Budget Session 2012 available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/parliament-in-budget-session-2012-1614/.
It is the duty of Parliament to discuss budget demands of all ministries and other bodies, but in the present session budget demands of most of the ministries were not even discussed. Hence demands of only few ministries were discussed while rest were forwarded for voting without any deliberations.
Parliament in Budget session in 2011- Division of time in different discussions
- Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named Parliament in Budget Session 2011 available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/parliament-in-budget-session-2011-1614/.
These statistics itself reflect that in the recent session of Lok Sabha, most of the time was devoted in discussing non-legislative and other less important matters. The valuable time of Lok Sabha was wasted in discussing matters pertaining to wikileaks, corruption issues etc., without giving appropriate time to legislative affairs. Many bills have also been passed by the way of informal discussions making the condition even more worst.[xlii] Looking at such condition, Krishan Kant, the then Vice-President of India has said, “each time the Parliamentarians and Legislatures are plunged in anarchic chaos, the edifice of democracy is little weakened”.[xliii]
- Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named 60 Years of Parliament available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/60-years-of-Parliament-1614/.
If by looking at the present data given in the above table, it is apparent that the passing of bills which is the essential legislative function has shown a relative decline.[xliv] On the one hand during early days of our democracy when Jawahar Lal Nehru was Prime Minister, the number of bills passed in one year was way more than the number of bills passed in present time. It can be, thus very well said that there has been a relative decline in quality of matters being discussed in the Parliament in present era which reflects its inefficiency in passing bills which is apparent from constantly decreasing figures. The contemporary parliamentarians have simply betrayed the faith what our founding fathers reposed in the Parliamentary democracy as one of the suitable model for India’s growth and development.
It is even mentioned in rulebook of Rajya Sabha that “one of the important functions of Rajya Sabha is to focus public attentions on major problems affecting policies of the Government and administration and to provide a forum for ventilation of public grievances.” This is nowhere reflected from present functioning of Rajya Sabha taking into account the quality of matters being discussed. Now, slowly and gradually, Parliament ceased to be a place for orderly exchange of viewpoints and many important legislations and decisions are made without any meaningful discussion or debate. Many MPs have brought their political rivalry from the streets to the floors of the house, attacked their opponents physically and had to be separated. Such incidents were unthinkable during the Nehru era.[xlv] Thus the research again proves that the quality of matters being discussed in the Parliament nowadays has deteriorated.
[e] Poor Utilisation of Question Hour
It is by convention that first hour of sitting both in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha are assigned as the question hour. Zero-hour is a significant parliamentary time to enable MPs to raise very urgent issues that require the government’s attention. Zero-hour comes for a few minutes after question-hour. It is designed to optimize Parliament’s time, and if possible use up any residual time. It is also uniquely Indian in which MPs are not even required to give any notice to the Speaker.[xlvi]
In recent times data reflect that question hour has often been disrupted. Even in this regard Chairman Hamid Ansari said that “it has been observed that members tend to raise issues concerning them at the expense of Question Hour“.[xlvii] The statement itself reflects the disrupting quality of question hour and least importance being attached to this valuable part of Parliamentary procedure.
Poor Utilisation of question hour till Winter Session, 2012 of the Parliament
- Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named Parliament in Winter Session 2012 available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/parliament-in-winter-session-2012-1614/.
The condition was no better in previous Lok Sabha session that was winter session of Parliament in 2010.
Starred Questions Answered Orally in the Parliament in 2012
- Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named Parliament in 2012 available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/parliament-in-2012-989/.
The destruction of question hour has continued in the year 2012 as well, with only 144 questions in Lok Sabha and 157 questions in Rajya Sabha being answered orally, while others were left for written answers due to paucity of time as a result of frequent disruptions.
Question hour was held twice in winter session of Parliament in 2011
- Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named in Parliament in Winter Session 2010 available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/parliament-in-winter-session-2010-1426/.
In this question hour of 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. [xlviii]
The ignorance of MPs about the visible significance of question hour could not be taken as an excuse. Because in 1957, it was a Question Hour query that blew the lid off India’s first major financial scam. It was a Lok Sabha Question Hour query by MP Feroze Gandhi that unraveled the Mundhra scandal leading to the resignation of then finance minister T T Krishnamachari.[xlix] This is the value of question hour and way it was utilized in Nehruvian era which is nowhere seen in present times. Due to constant decline in quality of question hour, comments have been made by various scholars regarding decline in character of the Parliament as whole by taking this point into consideration.[l]
- Study by PRS Legislative Research in its vital stats named Parliament in 2009 available at https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/parliament-in-2009-989/.
The condition of question hour has remained critical for quite a long period of time, as evident from the above chart. In 2009 session of Lok Sabha, the condition became so worst that out of 1100 questions admitted for question hour, only 266 were called in house while rest could not be raised due to paucity of time. Even, out of these 266 questions, in 57 questions enquiring MP was not present so only 209 questions were orally answered.[li] As a result even Rajya Sabha is planning to introduce a rule that no starred question goes unanswered in the absence of person who posed it.
Hence, this review of various aspects of the working of Parliament in post-Nehru era indicates how opportunities have been missed by our parliamentarians to set the shaking image of our Parliament right. In India, parliamentary erosion tends to trigger dramatic socio-political, legal and institutional change. The discussion that follows considers certain implications of this trend, both implicit and explicit.
The parliamentary decline is not the unique case of Indian exceptionalism. The highly professed, once entrenched parliamentary system is in crisis throughout the world. The performance of both Parliaments and parliamentarians across the globe has left no doubt that they are fast turning to a kind of rotten system that the democratic history has never witnessed before. To carry forward the case, Lord Bryce has devoted a full chapter named “The Decline of Legislatures” bringing out a point of decline in Parliaments around the world although he was not able to suggest any reforms.[lii] In another instance, due to the falling standards of the parliamentarians in public life U.K. Government constituted Nolan Committee on Public Standards in 1994. On the basis of this Committee report the House of Commons adopted a code of conduct for the Members which, inter-alia, stated: Members shall at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament and never undertake any action which would bring the House of Commons, or its Members generally into disrepute.[liii]
In such a scenario, there is an urgent need to take the lessons from its own records if not from the world and bring out positive change in the working style of Indian Parliament to ensure its survival. If we are not able to draw serious attention on reforming the parliamentary system, the time is not far off when our Parliament will only be treated as gossip centre like a ‘betel shop’ or ‘barber salon’ where self-styled politicians discuss political issues with no policy or legislative outcomes. The call is not to change the whole institution in one go. It is also in no sense viable. The idea is to bring changes, even incremental, that can help the Parliament to recover from present condition and faith of people is restored in Parliament. We must acknowledge the fact that our democracy will survive and stand only when men are principled enough to make it stand and survive.
We must reform to transform our parliamentary system work well or else the whole system will slip away from us. In this pursuit we recommend following reforms:
- There is a need of high interface of our parliamentarians with people not only of their constituencies but also in general on different issues of policy and legislative importance. Sincere effort is needed to increasing transparency between citizens and their parliamentarians. This will bring the faith of the people back with both Parliament and parliamentarians.
- Periodical conference, workshops and training programmes are to be organised to train our parliamentarians on working tools of the Parliament, parliamentary decency and decorum, matters of legislative importance, issues of national and international importance, drafting bills etc to increase their efficiency level and to improve their image. Codification of Parliamentary Ethics and Privileges are the need of hour to ensure check on their violations. Electoral reforms on the eligibility criteria for becoming a MP should be made stricter like including conditions such as minimum educational qualification, no criminal record etc. The recent judgment of the Supreme Court to disqualify the sitting parliamentarians in case they are convicted of certain offences is a welcome move. A full-fledged law on this is urgently needed.
- Political parties have to show sincere interest in distributing tickets to those candidates who are having clean background. There is a need to offer candidacy to skilled professional like lawyers, doctors, social activist, academicians etc. so as to utilize their skill, experience and potential in law making.
- Political parties shall be within the purview of Right to Information Act to increase transparency so far as the case of fund raising, agenda setting, distribution of tickets, party elections and their nexus with corporate world is concerned. This change is more needed when they too are consistently rated corrupt by the people of the country recorded in the 2013 report of Transparency International.
- Right to recall those parliamentarians who are not performing well shall be with people. A positive change has already taken place in this direction when judiciary instructed the Election Commission to incorporate right to reject i.e. ‘none of the above’ column in EVM and ballot box.
- Compulsory Referendum is to be introduced on legislative matters of high national importance.
- There is a need to codify Parliament rules such participation in debate rule, discipline, decorum etc. and also imposing fines and punishments for violation of the same. Compulsory attendance of our parliamentarians during session is to be made rule unless otherwise prior permission is not granted by the Speaker. The conduct of our parliamentarians outside the parliament should also be sincerely monitored.
- The annual report card of each parliamentarian is to be prepared on their attendance during parliamentary sessions, participation in debates and discussion, number of questions he has raised etc and then distributed amongst the people of their constituencies.
- There is also a need of institutional machinery to annually audit the growth in their income and wealth and performance in their respective constituencies.
[i] Morris-Jones,W.H, Parliament in India University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1957., p. 113.
[ii] S. Khilnani, The Idea of India, London: Penguin, 1997.
[iii] B. M. Chandra Mukherjee and A. Mukherjee, India after Independence, New Delhi: Viking, 1999.
[iv] Morris-Jones,W. H, Parliament in India University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1957.
[v] Balveer Arora. “The Indian Parliament and Democracy.” In The Indian Parliament: A Comparitive Perspective, by Ajay K. Mehra and Gert W. Kueck, 15-26. New Delhi, 2006.
[vi] G. Rubinoff. “The Decline of India’s Parliament.” The Journal of Legislative Studies 4, no. 4 (1998): 13-33; See also Arora, R S. “People and Parliament in India: A Study of Electoral Behaviour in India.” Parliamentary Affairs: A Journal of Representative Politics (Oxford University Press) 16, no. 1 (1962): 55-66, He has also commented on the decline of Indian Parliament by taking electoral behaviour of people into account and by showing that voters are not interested in voting due to such a decline in qulaity of the Parliamentary functioning.
[vii] Sharmila Mitra Deb. Indian Democracy: Problems and Prospects. Anthem Press, 2009; See also B L Shankar and Valerian Rodrigues. The Indian Parliament: A Democracy at Work. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, India, 2011.
[viii] See the recent study of PRS Legislative Research available at https://www.prsindia.org. (accessed on February 23, 2013)
[ix] Dr. Rushikesh Hole. “Hasn’t our Parliament declined in contemporary times?” https://www.prep4civils.com. 10 December 2010. https://www.prep4civils.com/blog/daily-essay/339/hasn%e2%80%99t-our-parliament- (accessed January 12, 2013).
[x] See Subhash C. Kashyap. Reviewing the Constitution? New Delhi: Shipra Publications, 2000.
[xi] Morris-Jones,W.H, Parliament in India University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1957.
[xii] Devesh Kapur and Pratap Bhanu Mehta. “The Indian Parliament as an Institution of Accountability.” Democracy, Governance and Human Rights Programme (UNRISD), January 2006: 27.
[xiii] Ramesh Kumar Goyal and Rajini Arora. Indian Public Administration: Instituions and Issues. New Age Intenational, 1995.
[xiv] Cf. Ashwini K Ray. “Indian Violent Democracy.” Illustrated Weekly of India, September 21-27, 1991; See also S. S. Khera. The Central Executive. Delhi: Orient Longman, 1975.
[xv] Morris-Jones. The Government and Politics of India Hutchinson, London 1964, p. 126
[xvi] Parliament of India. “Session of Parliament of India.” www.parliamentintofindia.org.in. https://www.parliamentofindia.org.in/session-of-parliament-of-india.htm (accessed January 22, 2013).
[xvii] Pratap Bhanu Mehta. “The rise of Judicial Sovereignty.” Journal of Democracy 18, no. 2 (October 2007): 70-83.
[xix] See B. Mohanan. Globalisation of Economy: Vision for the Future. Gyan Publishing House, 1995.
[xx] See Lok Sabha link at https://22.214.171.124/LssNew/Business/Bulletin2detail.aspx?bull2date=06/02/2004 (accessed on February 25, 2013); See also Centre for Civil Society. Parliament and Citizens: Bridging the Gap through greater Transparency. New Delhi: Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, 2010.
[xxi] See Dean E. Mchenry. “Parliament in India: Is there order midst the chaos?” Western Political Science Association. Las Vegas, 2007. 32.
[xxii] Srinivasan K. Rangachary. “Parliament paid for nothing.” The Shillong Times, September 2011; See generally IBN Live Politics. “MPs should debate, not disrupt Parliament.” www.ibnlive.in.com. March 5, 2009. https://ibnlive.in.com/news/mps-should-debate-issues-not-disrupt-parliament/86387-37.html (accessed January 22, 2013).
[xxiii] National Social Watch Coalition. Governance and Development, 2008-2009. NGO Study, Delhi: Daanish Books, 2009.
[xxiv] See Mass for Awareness. “Representative at Work” https://massforawareness.org/. 2009-2010 (accessed January 27, 2013).
[xxv] See Willard M. Berry. “Parliamentary Participation in the Indian Lok Sabha, 1957-1974.” Legislative Studies Quarterly (Comparitive Legal Research Center) 4, no. 1 (February 1979): 7-29.
[xxvi] NDTV. Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Among MPs with lower attendance in Parliament. 28 August 2012. https://www.ndtv.com/article/india/rahul-gandhi-akhilesh-among-mps-with-lower-attendance-in-parliament-260269 (accessed January 12, 2013).
[xxvii] Vidya Subrahamaniam. “From roaring lion to timid mouse.” The Hindu, February 2010.
[xxviii] Cf. Jessica Wallack. India’s Parliament as Representative Institution. India Review, vol. 7, no. 2, April-June 2008, pp. 91-114
[xxix] National Social Watch Coalition. Citizen’s Report on Governance and Development. New Delhi: Pearson Longman Press, 2007.
[xxx] Avijit Ghosh. “Where’s the debate in this din of Democracy?” Times of India, December 28, 2008: 8.
[xxxi] P Sakthivel. On Revitalizing Parliamentary Democracy. 27 January 2009. https://www.articlesbase.com/politics-articles/on-revitalizing-parliamentary-democracy-742358.html (accessed October 3, 2012).
[xxxii] See Arun Shourie. The Parliamentary System. Delhi: ASA Publications, Rupa and Co., 2007; See also Cf. Jessica Wallack. India’s Parliament as Representative Institution. India Review, vol. 7, no. 2, April-June 2008, pp. 91-114.
[xxxiii] IANS. “Half of Lok Sabha Mps did not participate in any debate.” www.thehindu.com. December 25, 2009. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article70242.ece (accessed January 6, 2013); See also World Snap. “Rahul, Sonia, Advani less active in Parliament.” www.news.worldsnap.com. May 24, 2011. https://news.worldsnap.com/india/rahul-sonia-advani-less-active-in-parliament-103813.html (accessed February 7, 2013).
[xxxiv] Jessica Wallack. “India’s Parliament as a Representative Institution.” India Review 7, no. 2 (April-June 2008): 91-114.
[xxxv] Srikanta Ghosh. Indian Democracy derailed poltics and poiticians. APH Publishing, 1997.
[xxxvi] Rohit Kumar. “Parliament in 2009.” www.prsindia.org. 31 December 2009. https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/parliament-in-monsoon-session-2010-1277/ (accessed January 29, 2013).
[xxxvii] Nicholas Baldwin. Executive leadership and assembly debates. New York: Antony Rowe Ltd.Chippenham Wiltshire, 2006.
[xxxviii] The Hindu. “DMK will keep of Session if Suspensions are not revoked.” www.thehindu.com. April 9, 2003. https://www.thehindu.com/2003/04/09/stories/2003040904730400.htm (accessed February 11, 2013).
[xxxix] The Hindu. “Opposition MLAs Evicted En Masse, Arrested.” www.thehindu.com. April 11, 2003. https://www.thehindu.com/2003/04/11/stories/2003041105040400.htm (accessed January 13, 2013).
[xl] C V. Madhukar. “46 Day Report Card.” www.inidianexpress.com. December 24, 2008. https://www.indianexpress.com/news/46day-report-card/402181/0 (accessed February 8, 2013).
[xli] Dr. V.K. Agnihotri. “Sterngthening Links Between Parliament and Citizens.” Speech in Opening Session of Rajya Sabha, 2010 (219th Session of Rajya Sabha). Available at https.//rajyasabha.nic.in.
[xlii] Arun Agrawal. “The Indian Parliament.” In Public Institutions in India: Performance and Design, by Devesh Kapur and Pratap Bhanu Mehta. New Delhi : Oxford University Press, 2005.
[xliii] Krishan Kant. “Inaugural Address.” In Discipline and Decorum in Parliament and State Legislatures, All India Conference of Presiding Officers, Chief Ministers, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Leders and Whips of Parties, New Delhi, 25th November, 2001, by G C Malhotra, 18. New Delhi: Lok Sabha Secretariat, 2003.
[xliv] Devesh Kapur and Pratap Bhanu Mehta. “The Indian Parliament as an Institution of Accountability.” Democracy, Governance and Human Rights Programme (UNRISD), January 2006: 27.
[xlv] Justice A.M. Ahmadi. Dr Zakir Husain Memorial Lecture On The Problems and Prospects of Indian Democracy : An Evaluation of its working for Designing the Processes of Change for Peaceful Transformation. 15 February 1996. https://www.ebc-india.com/lawyer/articles/96v2a1.htm (accessed January 29, 2013).
[xlvi] Mahesh Vijapurkar. “Hero of Zero Hour: Why Rahul Gandhu made that speech?” www.firstpost.com. August 21, 2011. https://www.firstpost.com/politics/hero-of-zero-hour-why-rahul-gandhi-made-that-speech-70334.html (accessed February 7, 2013).
[xlvii] Indian Express. Question hour shifted to 2 pm in Rajya Sabha. 4 March 2011. https://www.indianexpress.com/news/question-hour-shifted-to-2-pm-in-rajya-sabha/757773/ (accessed January 27, 2013).
[xlviii] Rohit Kumar. “Vital Stats: Parliament in Winter Session, 2010.” www.prsindia.org. 13 December 2010. https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/ (accessed January 22, 2013).
[xlix] Nandita Sengupta. “Question Hour: Many don’t know what questions are being asked in their name.” The Times of India, December 2, 2009.
[l] See Madhav Godbole. India’s Parliamentary Democracy on Trial. New Delhi: Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd., 2006.
[li] Rohit Kumar. “Parliament in 2009.” www.prsindia.org. 31 December 2009. https://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/parliament-in-monsoon-session-2010-1277/ (accessed January 29, 2013); See also Vishwanathan, T K. “Session Review: Lok Sabha.” The Journal of Parliamentary Information, 2011: 51.
[lii] Jame Bryce. Modern Democracies. New York: The Mac-millan Company, 1921.
[liii] K R. Narayanan. “Decline of Parliamentary Government in Great Britain and India.” Rajya Sabha. New Delhi, 2002. 23-26.