N.R. Madhava Menon, former director of the National Judicial Academy in Bhopal, has said that Parliament and Legislative Assemblies are passing through difficult times, with some sections of the public starting to doubt the relevance of cabinet system of parliamentary democracy to a large and diverse nation like India.

He said this in a lecture on the topic ‘‘Challenges to effective law-making in pluralist democracies,' organised at the Legislative Complex here on Tuesday in connection with the diamond jubilee of Kerala Legislative Secretariat.

He said that in the absence of a strong and united Opposition and a truly representative government, an imbalance in power equation had developed within and outside legislatures to weaken the parliamentary system, sometimes leading to totalitarian tendencies and executive non-accountability.

Instead of the executive government being controlled by Parliament/Legislatures, the tendency had been the other way round. “It is for the Parliament/Legislatures and those associated with them to arrest their marginalisation and restore people's confidence in them to be able to give responsive, participatory, and accountable governance.”

Prof. Menon said that social activist Anna Hazare's ongoing movement had brought to focus some of the issues plaguing the parliamentary system in the country. It was not the issue of corruption as such, but the issue of whether the system now truly represented the one that was envisaged for the country by the makers of the Constitution.

Effective governance demanded effective laws. Laws were being enacted nowadays without even discussion in Parliament and Legislatures. He said former Union Home Secretary Madhav Godbole, who had studied the functioning of parliamentary democracy in the country, had brought out some shocking data pointing to the way Parliament had got itself marginalised.

“Apart from continuous disruption of proceedings and consequent reduction in the duration of sessions, there has been hasty passage of legislations without any discussion, curtailment of Question Hour, open defiance of the Speaker and abuse of legislative privileges. If in the 1950's the duration of Parliament sittings averaged 130 days a year, it has come down to less than 50 days in 2008…In 2008, on the last day of a session, eight Bills were rushed through in less than 17 minutes with no discussion whatsoever…The story is not much different in many State Assemblies,” Prof. Menon said.

He said that according to Mr. Godbole, the large gap between public expectations and performance of Legislatures was partly due to the fact that neither Parliament, nor State Legislatures had thought it necessary during the last 60 years to submit themselves to any independent scrutiny of their functioning. They had also not taken cognizance of the ongoing reforms and prevailing best practices in other democracies.

“The systems, procedures, and practices for the working of Indian Legislatures have not undergone any significant change since 1950's. The greatest challenge before law makers, therefore, is how to accomplish systemic changes and structural reforms to suit the requirements of efficient law making in a fast changing environment in the polity, economy, and society,” he said.

Sebastian Paul, former MP, welcomed the gathering, which consisted of Ministers, MLAs, former legislators, employees and retired employees of the Legislative Secretariat, and media representatives. Savithri Lakshman, former MLA, chaired the session. P.D. Rajan, Secretary, Kerala Legislative Secretariat, proposed a vote of thanks.