BIBEK DEBROY IN THE INDIAN EXPRESS
PRS Legislative Research organised a conference on effective legislatures with two sessions, executive versus legislature and anti-defection. For each, a background note was prepared. Consider the following, picked up from the first background note on executive versus legislature.
* On the last day of 2008, eight Bills were passed in Lok Sabha in 17 minutes.
* Parliament met for 46 days in 2008, the lowest ever.
* Of 219 Bills introduced in 14th Lok Sabha, 14 met with objections at the introduction stage. But all objections were voted down.
* Ninety-two per cent of all speeches were in support of government Bills. Eighty-five per cent of speeches by the principal opposition party were in support of government Bills. There were no private member Bills, understandable since the last private member Bill was in 1970.
* Only 15 per cent of starred questions were answered verbally.
* No adjournment motions were passed. No Standing Committee examination of the Budget occurred in 2009, as Committees were not formed in time. There was not a single instance where rules and regulations (as opposed to statutes) were discussed, though they were placed before Parliament.
These numbers and factoids are from 14th Lok Sabha, and one can add more to illustrate the deterioration over time. There are broader issues, including those of electoral reform and the role of smaller parties. However, within the executive versus legislature point, the issue is whether executive action constrains effective functioning of legislature, and there will be consensus that the latter is unsatisfactory.
First, there is the question of executive control over convening (or non-convening and adjournment) of Parliament. Second, what is Parliament’s time spent on once convened?
How well is legislation drafted, including on financial implications? When are these statutes notified, when passed? What about rules and regulations? Do Parliamentary Committees exercise adequate scrutiny over proposed legislation? Does the party (including whips) system render such scrutiny imperfect? Third, do MPs have adequate research resources to address core legislative functions? Fourth, do smaller parties, independents and even MPs from larger parties (there is the threat of anti-defection legislation) have adequate representation and time (question hour, zero hour) in Parliament? Does Parliament have teeth to examine all aspects of policy (Planning Commission, regulatory authorities)?
The simple point is both executive and legislature have been mentioned in the Constitution and the latter is supposed to act as an effective check on excesses of the former. There are too many blemishes on this “check” function, some created by the executive itself. As the Constitution has changed, so should parliamentary practices and procedures.