At the time of independence, there were apprehensions that India would not remain united for a long period of time. But India proved the naysayers wrong by its consistent efforts to strengthen democracy. Our backbone was the Constitution. But in the last few years, the voice of the legislative role of Parliament is being ignored by the executive through various tools such as extra-emphasis on ordinances, and bills passed without parliamentary committee oversight.
It is said that data is one of the most dangerous things in the world because it presents the truth in an unbiased manner. So, I try to present all data and recent trends of Parliament and leave it to the readers to draw their conclusions.
Ordinance-making gave absolute power to the executive to surpass legislature and enact law without the consent of Parliament. Builders of the Constitution made provisions for ordinances so that laws could be made in extraordinary situations.
During the 2010s, 7.9 ordinances were enacted per year. This has significantly increased to more than double in the last few years with 16 in 2019, 15 in 2020.
Bills referred to the parliamentary committee are seen as an important measure to exercise legislative control over the functioning of the executive (government). It scrutinises the bills and makes them error-free and inclusive by taking care of all the concerns.
During UPA rule, in the 14th and 15th Lok Sabha, 60 per cent and 71 per cent bills were sent to the parliamentary committee respectively. This has come down to 27 per cent in NDA-1, and 12 per cent in the current NDA-2.
Office of Deputy Speaker
The Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha is a partner to the Speaker, and not subordinate to him/her. In the early years of independence, a convention was developed that the Deputy Speaker should not be from the ruling party. He/She also headed various committees such as the Committee on Private Member Bills and Resolution (by M. Thambidurai in the previous Lok Sabha), which further provided a platform for inclusive policymaking.
It is quite unfortunate that the Deputy Speaker has not been appointed for more than two years now (for the first time in the history of independent India). This vacancy seems to be a tactical move by the ruling BJP to run Parliament on its own terms.
Days of Parliament functioning
During Covid, countries across the world were conducting legislative work online. Global organisations were conducting online conferences. But India was reluctant to use electronic tools.
In 2020-21, Lok Sabha functioned for 34 days while Rajya Sabha functioned for 33 days. It was the lowest ever in India. Winter session 2020 was not conducted completely. Even Budget Session 2021 was reduced by two weeks because of election campaigning.
I had some memories of viewing Parliament Question Hour on Doordarshan (I didn’t understand much at that time). Surely, it was done considering the importance of the Question Hour. But unfortunately, last year, there was no Question Hour in the Monsoon Session. Then, no Winter Session was held. And in this Monsoon Session, hardly a Question Hour session was held with 4.3 hours in Rajya Sabha and 5.9 hours in Lok Sabha.
Discussion on policy issue in Monsoon Session 2021
Parliament is viewed as a temple of deliberation and discussion. But, in the recent Lok Sabha session, there has been zero discussion on any policy issue. Rajya Sabha had just one such discussion on the management of Covid-19. No discussions were held on Pegasus, farmers’ protests, stand-off with China, or rising fuel prices.
Passage of bills in Monsoon Session 2021
No bill was passed to the Parliamentary Committee. Every bill introduced in this Monsoon Session was passed within the same session. Crossing all limits, 18 bills were passed in Lok Sabha with only one bill being discussed over 15 minutes. In Rajya Sabha, except for one bill, no other bill stood for more than 70 minutes.
These points show how the ruling party is ignoring the legislature. It should be held accountable, and the general public should ask questions about the functioning of Parliament.
Himanshu is a student of IIT Delhi. Views are personal.