Frequent disruptions of proceedings often lasting for days and sometimes wasting entire sessions have somehow been becoming a reputation that the Parliament may find hard to fight. Thus, former Secretary-General of Rajya Sabha Yogendra Narain suggest ways to redeem the legislature from getting deeper into the morass
Parliament has basically four functions to perform
a.To deliberate on the legislation prepared by the Government and consider by majority whether it be made a law
b.To discuss issues confronting the nation in order to highlight the grievances of the people and to evolve a consensus on future action
c.To approve the budget and authorise expenditure from the Consolidated Fund of India
d.To keep a check on the executive and be a watchdog safeguarding the rights of the citizens
If Parliament fails to perform these functions then it is the failure of the democratic process and responsibility has to be equally shared by the Opposition as well as the Government. As has been said in the past, while Government must have its way, the opposition must be allowed to have its say.
Under Article 118, each House of Parliament “may make rules for regulating, subject to the provisions of the Constitution, its procedure and the conduct of its business “Under this Article both the Houses, i.e. the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha, have made their rules of procedure. Though most of the rules are similar in both the Houses yet there are some significant variations. The Rules Committee of each of the Houses suggests amendments from time to time and after discussions the modified rules are formally adopted separately in each House.
About two years back the Rajya Sabha changed its rules and moved the Question Hour to the afternoon session instead of being the first item on the agenda. However this was not appreciated by the members and after a brief period the Business Advisory Committee brought back the Question Hour to its original position. The Rules Advisory Committee and the Business Advisory Committee of both the Houses has made several amendments to enable smoother running of both the Houses. But the members have ensured that such changes do not succeed in peaceful running of the Houses.
In 2015, Parliament proceedings were marred by disruptions over a wide range of issues notably the GST Bill and the National Herald case. Then followed the Ishrat Jahan case with the ruling party lambasting the Congress on the affidavits being changed with ulterior political motives. At present the Augusta Westland helicopters purchase and the observations of the Italian court on the bribes being paid to the officers and politicians by the company headquartered in Italy have taken centre stage. With the induction of Subramanian Swamy as a member of the Rajya Sabha, sparks are bound to fly daily.
The Question Hour in the Rajya Sabha gets disrupted daily as the Opposition is in a majority and will only allow the House to function as it wants. Even though the Question Hour has been shifted again to the afternoon, on the initiative of the Chairman, disruptions continue as before.
The Aadhar Bill was approved by Parliament through a devious method of declaring it as a Money Bill. Approval of the Rajya Sabha therefore became unnecessary. However, some members have taken the issue of the Bill being declared a Money Bill to the Supreme Court. This has led to the denigration of the position of the Speaker as well as Parliament. Will the Courts now have the final say in matters relating to Parliament also?
It was fortunate that the Real Estate Regulatory Bill got passed by mutual agreement in both the Houses. But this was more because of the pressure put in by the citizens who had been taken for a ride by builders and real estate developers. However it did show that if public pressure is applied strongly, Parliament has to listen.
The issue of Presidents Rule in Uttarakhand is again rocking Parliament. In spite of the fact that President’s rule has been imposed more than ninety times on the States no clear cut rules have yet been laid down by Parliament as to how and when can the Presidents Rule be promulgated. Mischief has been done by both the ruling and Opposition parties in this field.
In UK the leader of the Opposition determines the agenda for 20 percent of the time. The British Parliament sits for 150 days in a year (averaging 7.5 hours on each day). On the other hand the Indian Parliament which used to sit for 120 to 140 days in the 1950’s and 1960’s nowadays meets for 60 to 70 days in a year. The Government has been unable to pass the legislations brought forward by it and the Opposition feels frustrated that the issues it wants discussed have not been put on the Parliamentary agenda. Efforts by the Presiding officers to bring about a compromise have not succeeded.A solution to such an impasse can be brought out through some out of box thinking by the Parliamentarians themselves.
The Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in both the Houses are framed by each House under Article 118(1) of the Constitution.
Further as per provisions of Article 85 it is the President who from time to time summons each House of Parliament “to meet at such time and place as he thinks fit.
Further under Article 86(2), the President may send messages to either House of Parliament, whether with respect to a Bill then pending in Parliament or otherwise, and a House to which any message is so sent shall with all convenient despatch consider any matter required by the message to be taken into consideration.
Do these provisions have inbuilt in them some political philosophy or strategy which our founding fathers had conceived to meet the situations which are rising in Parliament from time to time not only today but in the past when ruling parties changed? In the light of these provisions two constitutional solutions are possible to the impasse which has arisen in Parliament.
1.The President can divide the Parliamentary sessions into legislative sessions and general sessions. In the legislative sessions the President can send a message, under Article 86(2) directing both Houses to consider the Bills put up for consideration. The House would be then duty bound to deliberate on those Bills.
On the other hand, the general sessions can discuss all other non legislative issues. These general sessions can also have the Question hour while the legislative sessions need not have the Question Hour.
2.The Houses can themselves revise their rules of Procedure to separate into weekly legislative sessions without Question Hour and General discussion weeks for general discussions with Question Hour.
If Parliament can come out with a viable solution, fair to both the Opposition as well as the ruling party, based on the principles suggested above, all the State legislatures will also follow suit and this might lead to more harmonious working of the legislatures. An annual calendar of sittings of the legislature should also be prepared, keeping in mind the above proposals, and put in the public domain at the beginning of the year
The solution proposed would ensure expeditious deliberations on the Bills proposed by the Government and at the same time give ample opportunity to the Opposition to raise issues which they consider of national importance.