Indian Parliament Needs Rejuvenation
The Constitution of India rests the sovereign power of the land in the Indian people. And the Indian people are represented, indirectly, by their MPs in the Parliament.
The Parliament is the central institution in the Indian democratic setup. Based on the Westminster Model of Parliamentary democracy, the Indian Parliament is supposed to serve multiple functions.
One, it is a platform where the problems facing the people are aired and listened to by the Government of the day. Second, it is the legislative body of the Indian state, making laws under the Union and the Concurrent list. Third, it serves the Constituent function as well. In the absence of any special Constitutional convention procedures, as in the US, the Parliament has the power to amend most of the Constitution by itself.
That is not it. The Parliament and specifically, the House of People(Lok Sabha)has been considered the competent authority for holding the executive accountable. The Rajya Sabha, although not directly, but through its means holds the executive accountable too. In my opinion, this is the most important function of the Parliament.
Now for an MP, there are two avenues to hold the Council of Ministers responsible, one is questions and the second is through motions and debates.
Is Asking Questions That Difficult?
If asked what word could best describe this procedure, I would say cumbersome. Let me give you an example. Let’s say a Member of Parliament, in the Lok Sabha, wants to ask a question to a minister. The Member then should follow a detailed procedure:
- Member needs to give a 15 days notice and decide whether it will be a starred or an unstarred question.
- Fill up the prescribed forms and submit them to the Lok Sabha Secretariat. “Besides the text of the question, the notice should state clearly the designation of the Minister to whom the question is addressed, as also the date on which the question is desired to be placed on the list of questions for the answer. Where a member tables more than one notice of questions for the same day, he/she may indicate the order of preference inter-se.”
- Post the submission of the question, scrutiny followed by a ballot is held to select the questions. After the ballot, the questions are scrutinised to check whether the questions are compliant with the rules or not.
- Some questions are disallowed and the allowed ones are sent to the ministry for preparation of the answer.
This procedure is way too long and isn’t enough to induce the required responsibility. The minister doesn’t have to be on top of everything happening in their department. They can read out answers or their secretaries can type them out.
What About Debates and Motions?
A similar scenario is for the motions and debates. It requires two major things, time and approval from Business Advisory Committee. The number of days for which the Indian Parliament meets has continuously declined over the years from around 120 days in the initial years to around 70 days now. And in these 70 days, most of the time is occupied by government business and legislation. Additionally, there are very few opposition motions that are discussed in the time left.
PRS’, a legislative research organisation, analysis for the Winter Session(See Figure 1) of 2019(Last normal year of functioning before COVID), shows that government business dominated both houses.
But the percentages mask the actual time for which these matters were taken up. The hours spent on Non-legislative business was just 48.6 in the Lok Sabha and 30.8 in the Rajya Sabha. That is far too less for a body which represents more than 1.25 billion people.
What Needs to Be Done?
As far as my knowledge on this matter goes, we need to take some very simple steps:
- Increase the Number of Days in Each Session: The Parliament must meet for at least 150 days a year. The current Constitutional provisions do not mandate the number of days for which the Parliament needs to sit for. I think it’s time we add a mandate to the Constitution.
- MPs Should Work More Hours: The House of Commons works from morning to nearly 10 pm at the night sometimes. The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha can increase their working hours too.
- Introduce PMQs: Major Parliamentary democracies have Prime Minister Questions once a week. UK and Canada are two major examples. They can be asked any question about the working of the government. It’s high time the Indian parliament does the same.
- Overhaul the Procedure to Ask Questions: Ministers will be held accountable if they are asked simultaneous questions. They should be on their feet to know what is happening with their departments. Therefore, the approval process should be done away with and a new simpler method just for the selection of the MPs who would ask questions can be introduced.
- Opposition Motion Days: The Parliament should have days where only the opposition is allowed to move motions and select the topic of the debates and discussions.
Taking these steps would be a healthy beginning towards making our Parliament better and holding the government of the day more accountable.