The biggest news is that the Monsoon Session of Parliament has been functioning normally. This is, perhaps, for the first time in four years, since the BJP came to power, that the two houses have been conducting business without interruptions and there has been no adjournment for an hour, two hours and for the day. On the eve of the Monsoon Session, almost all newspapers predicted that this session too, like previous ones, will be a washout, but all of them have been proved wrong. The highlight of the ongoing session was admission of a no-confidence against the Modi government. During the day-long debate, talents from both sides sparkled and came to the fore. In the last session too, Opposition made a bid to bring the no-trust motion but Speaker, Sumitra Mahajan, did not give her consent on the plea that the house was not in order.
The question is often asked why this session has been functioning normally? The probable answer could be attendance of a few MPs and also the fact that the members present did not want to show to electorates that they are a rowdy lot considering the coming of Lok Sabha elections. Earlier, with live telecast of Parliament’s proceeding, members vied with each other to show that they were more assertive which created the rowdy scenes.
When did the trend begin?
The practice of disrupting the proceedings, rushing to the well of the house and forcing the presiding officers to adjourn the house was started during Rajiv Gandhi’s time, that is 1985 onwards, and the BJP members took the lead. Disruptions touched its peak when the issue of alleged kickbacks in the Bofors guns deal was raised in two houses. Subsequently, session after session was washed out. Important business, even the budget, were passed without discussion. However, the allegations were yet to be proved, apparently there was no truth in the charge of kickback. Bofors howitzers proved great asset during Kargil war. Each shell fired was a salute to Rajiv Gandhi’s memory. Even before 1985, proceedings were disrupted and members rushed to the well of the house but such incidents were rare.
2nd last Lok Sabha
- 15 th Lok Sabha (2009 to 2014) had total of 357 sittings
- 1,344 hours was the total the house sat for during all the sittings
- 891 hours of the total were wasted due to obstructions and adjournments
- In the last session, while on one hand the no-confidence motion against the cabinet was dismissed by the Speaker saying that the House was not in order, on the other, many bills, including the Union Budget, were passed even without discussion and debate.
- Estimates are made as to how much do the frequent parliamentary disruptions cost the country. The repeated interruptions and adjournments not only diminishes the capacity of Parliament to function, but also blurs the concept of Parliamentary democracy, and evaluating the loss in monetary terms would be a farce.
- Perhaps, for this reason parliamentary democracy is called the dictatorship of majority. But now the situation has changed. Now minority parties create barriers and the majority parties do not discuss or debate in Parliament. Every MP and a political party has the constitutional right to express their views in Parliament freely.
- Over the last decade, the control of Parliament and Assemblies over government finances has decreased significantly owing to the change in the structure of government expenditure and revenues.
Key issues causing disruptions
- Scams like 2G spectrum, Adarsh Society, Commonwealth games, allotment of coal mines came before Parliament
- Also, on the issue of a separate Telangana state, Parliament’s proceedings were adjourned several times
Bills passed without debates
The country has seen members adopting various ways of obstruction including some members coming to the well of the house, flashing placards. According to rules of the House, when members come to the well, the presiding officers should ideally adjourn the proceedings.
Minority vs majority
At one point veteran leader LK Advani was so upset with the state of affairs in Parliament that he had said in the Lok Sabha that his inner voice says he wanted to resign. There is a saying that in the democracy the minorities speak their mind, but majority does what is in their mind.
Estimate of losses
- It is true that the time lost to disruption has dramatically increased in the last two decades
- Rs7.8 crore was the expenditure for each day of the session in the Parliament during the 15th Lok Sabha
- 8 successive days of adjournment of Parliament without any major business translated into a loss of staggering Rs63 crore
- The controversial 2G spectrum may have caused colossal losses to the national exchequer
- But the continuing opposition protests over Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) also have led to a huge financial drain
- Barring the last day of a winter session, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have not functioned normally for even one full day to transact legislative business
- In the 15th Lok Sabha under the Congress led UPA government, as much as 40 per cent of the total time was lost to disruption, making it the least productive Lok Sabha ever
Concern over reduced sittings
- Members of the Rajya Sabha on Friday expressed concern over reduced Parliament sittings annually, with some seeking an effective system to prevent and arrest the decline in parliamentary productivity due to disruptions. Concerns were raised during a discussion on a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) member Naresh Gujral.
- The Parliament (Enhancement of Productivity) Bill, 2017, sought to evolve a system by means of an appropriate legal framework to fix the minimum number of days in a year for Parliament sessions. Initiating the debate, Gujral said that over the years Parliament met for hardly 60-70 days in a year.
Surprisingly, the current Monsoon session has been so far functioning normally. Of late, there has been talk that parliamentary democracy is not suited to India. Hence a section talked of switching over to presidential form of government. Experts say presidential form is not suited to India and, therefore, Parliamentary form has to be saved.
(The author is a senior journalist)