Reforming Indian Parliament, Diabetes: Spreading among poor Current Affairs 1st July, 2017

Reforming Indian Parliament, Diabetes: Spreading among poor Current Affairs 1st July, 2017

Reforming Indian Parliament

Parliament is supposed to be a union of exemplary orators, with a grass-roots touch. Unfortunately, one is rarely inspired by the quality of India’s parliamentary debates nowadays.

Issues:

  • Parliamentary debates, which once focused on national and critical issues, are now more about local problems, viewed from a parochial angle.
  • Poor attendance by our Members of Parliament (MPs), poor quality of debates and pandemonium marking the proceedings, there is seemingly little value that a parliamentary representative can add to the policy discourse.
  • Low productivity- Between the 1950s and the 1960s, the Lok Sabha used to meet for an average of 120 days in a year. In comparison, in the last decade, it has met for an average of 70 days a year. Its productivity in the 2016 winter session was 14%, while that of the Rajya Sabha was 20%.
  • Political power continues to be a male bastion. The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have not seen women MPs cross the 12% mark. In 2012, India ranked 20th from the bottom in terms of representation of women in Parliament. While the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments enabled the reservation of 33% of seats in local government, political representation by women candidates continues to be subdued, with no significant rise in the number of women MLAs.
  • Parliamentary legislation is being hastily drafted and being rushed through Parliament in an ad hoc and haphazard manner. In 2008, for instance, 16 Bills were passed with less than 20 minutes of debate.
  • The non-passage of private member Bills. Only the second half of every Friday, during a parliamentary session, is devoted to debating private member Bills. To date, only 14 private member bills have been passed.
  • Even the individual voting record of MPs remains unknown. With no record maintained of the voting record associated with each MP, it is difficult to distinguish their individual progressive or conservative nature, let alone their leadership abilities. Currently, the Anti-Defection Act punishes MPs who deviate from their parties’ stated position, with the risk of losing their seats.
  • Most MPs have limited or no research staff, leaving them bereft of expert in-house advice. Parliament’s Library and Reference, Research, Documentation and Information Service (LARRDIS) currently has a sanctioned strength of 231 staffers but employs 176, about 8% of the total strength of the Lok Sabha secretariat. In comparison, the Congressional Research Service, a part of the Library of the U.S. Congress, employs 600 people, of whom 400 are policy analysts, attorneys and sectoral experts, while the Congressional Budget Office has an additional 200 people. Other parliaments offer funds to hire research teams for MPs.

Way forward:

  • While our Parliament lacks the power to convene itself, it should have a minimum mandated number of days to meet. The National Commission to review the working of the Constitution recommended 120 and 100 days for the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, respectively. Odisha has already shown the way, mandating a minimum of 60 days for the State Assembly to sit.
  • The male domination needs to be changed dramatically, beginning with the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill (108th amendment) reserving 33% of all seats in Parliament and State legislatures for women.
  • We need a systematic approach to legislative engineering and prioritisation — the parliamentary committee, an unfashionable institution, long out of vogue, can assume institutional importance in this process. For a backbencher MP, such committees offer a place to raise issues in the general public interest and conduct advocacy amidst legislative engineering.
  • As highlighted by the Law Ministry, we require a constitution committee. Instead of constitutional amendments being presented to Parliament like ordinary pieces of legislation in the form of Bills, often at short notice, it would be desirable to have the committee conduct an appropriate priori scrutiny before the actual drafting of the proposal for constitutional reform.
  • The Anti-Defection Act needs to be recast, and used only in the most exceptional circumstances, while allowing MPs free rein on their self-expression. The U.K., for example, has the concept of a free vote allowing MPs to vote as they wish on particular legislative items.
  • Investing in Parliament’s intellectual capital is necessary and additional budgetary support should be provided while assisting MPs in employing research staff.
  • We also need an institutionalised process to raise the quality and rigour associated with the budget scrutiny process. India needs a parliamentary budget office(PBO), akin to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, which can be an independent and impartial institution devoted to conducting a technical and objective analysis of any Bill with spending or revenue raising requirements.

Conclusion:
India’s citizens need a more robust legislative system that offers public representatives — our MPs, Ministers and the Prime Minister — a greater sense of authority. Parliament should be a space for policy and not for politics. We need to undertake reforms to ensure that it is recast as such.

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