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Updated: October 24, 2013 02:08 IST

Trying times for parliamentary system

Gurudas Das Gupta
Comment (24)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

The legislature is bypassed; interruptions are on the rise; answers to questions are unsatisfactory; and the political standards of members have deteriorated.

Article 75 (3) of the Constitution provides that “the Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the House of People.” This provision is the cornerstone of one of the most important functions of the Union Legislature, namely, legislative oversight of executive functioning. The Constitution, by making this provision, has empowered the legislature, the House of People, to hold the executive accountable for its acts of omission and commission, to monitor the actions of the executive with a view to ensuring that they are being carried out effectively and according to the legislative intent, in the main to ensure economic empowerment of the common people, and also to establish norms for participative democracy.

Rules of procedure

There are provisions in the rules of procedure and conditions of business in the Lok Sabha that empower members to ask a Minister questions on all aspects of the functioning of the Ministry under him; give notice of an adjournment motion on a matter of urgent public importance of recent occurrence involving responsibility of the Government of India; or give notice of (a) resolutions (b) motions (c) short-duration discussions and (d) calling attention to discuss matters pertaining to executive functioning.

Besides, there are other parliamentary devices under which rules matters may be brought to the notice of the government by members demanding action. Then there are parliamentary committees which examine bills referred to them and scrutinise the demand for grants of all ministeries/departments.

All this would appear to paint a rosy picture that the principle of executive responsibility towards Parliament, enshrined in the Constitution, is a reality. But, unfortunately, the actuality is far from reality.

The fair play of the functioning of Parliament can be ensured only if the government willingly subjects itself to legislative scrutiny. Also, members must be proactively vigilant and must utilise all opportunities to bring the government to book whenever and wherever it is found to be wanting. But unfortunately, neither the government nor the members discharge their duties in the manner they are called upon to do.

Lamentable

Most lamentably, the parliamentary system in the country is on the decline not only at the Centre but also in the States. Parliament is bypassed. Parliamentary scrutiny is avoided. The duration of the sessions is on the decline. Interruptions are on the rise. Answers to questions are unsatisfactory and incomplete. It is easier to extract full and fair information through the Right to Information Act than by raising questions in Parliament. Even a short-duration discussion or calling attention motion does not yield results.

On important executive decisions, Parliament’s sanction is not needed. The UPA government implemented the Aadhaar card but it does not enjoy any legislative sanction. A few years ago, a unanimous resolution was passed in the Lok Sabha calling upon the government to take effective measures to contain price rise. It did not implement the resolution. The members also could not haul up the executive for the failure. While Parliament is ignored by the government, members are not vigilant enough to enforce their rights.

Parliamentary oversight of the budgetary process has immensely weakened, leading to the executive wielding disproportionate power and acquiring clout over the process. There is no pre-budget scrutiny as in the U.S. Congress. Supplementary demands for grants are not referred to the Standing Committees. Nor are their recommendations binding on the government — they are merely an academic exercise. The demand for grants by most of the Ministries is guillotined without any discussion. The time allotted for a discussion on the Finance Bill and demands for grants is not adequate. Even after the budget is passed, the government is authorised to withdraw money from the Consolidated Fund of India, the allocation is changed, reduced, even withheld. In the current year, the government pruned the budget expenditure by at least Rs. 50,000 crore in the name of fiscal discipline, in violation of parliamentary mandate.

The jugglery of statistics in parliamentary papers is bewildering. More is covered up than what is on paper. While presenting a budget, the government gives a figure known as budgetary estimate for all departments. In the middle of the year, it is changed to revised estimates. It may be less or more than the budgetary estimate. Only at the close of the financial year, would we come to know what the actual expenditure is but there is hardly any scrutiny of the actual spending. There is wide variation among the three figures and they are manipulated by the executive to suit its political convenience, in disregard for the interests of the marginalised sections.

No discussion

The political standard of the members has declined miserably; apathy towards parliamentary discussion is palpable. While members of the British Parliament forced the government to change its policy on Syria, in India there is no such parliamentary device to force our government to change its policies. Strategic policies are not discussed. The resource policy of the country, the mineral policy, the power policy, nothing is ever discussed. It is the executive that decides.

There are members who have not spoken even once in the House. Seventy six out of 543 members of the Lok Sabha have court cases pending against them. About 58 per cent of the Lok Sabha members are crorepatis. A large number of persons who have entered Parliament have not been political activists at all. We see more and more of the propertied class, businessmen and former bureaucrats entering Parliament. Parliamentarianism is looked upon more as a profession, unrelated to the discharge of a patriotic duty.

If the Indian parliamentary system is weakened, the political system will be in jeopardy. In South Asia, only the Indian democracy is a little deep-rooted. But if the decline of the parliamentary system continues unabated, if the executive becomes reckless, if public opinion is ignored, if fruitful democracy and participatory system are lamentably overpowered, the country will be in peril. Let the country take note of the impending disaster and look for the remedy.

(The writer is Member of Parliament.)

More In: Lead | Opinion

It will be nice if know the following comparative numbers of various Lok Sabhas in the past 65 years :
1) Number of Bills passed
2) Total hours of sitting
3) Percentage of time lost due to disturbances by opposition parties
4) Number of unspoken MPs
5) What is the duration for which PM was present in the House
6) What is the duration for which the Leader of the Opposition was present in the House
7) What is the percentage of Bills supported by the main Opposition party
8) How many times PM had consulted the Opposition Leader
9) How many times an all party meeting had been convened
10) How many times Ordinances had been promulgated.
Without knowing these numbers, it is premature to comment on this article !
We always keep saying the past had been good. But if we look around, the opposite is true ! In each of the 20 years between 1947 and 1991,
How many people died of hunger ? How many children died of malnutrition ? What were the HDI improvements ? Have a comprehensive look !

from:  K.Periasamy
Posted on: Oct 26, 2013 at 01:36 IST

Is it an epitaph of great Indian democracy? Looks like it.Present Indian democracy is not what it used to be before Liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation spree was launched with much fanfare. The article simply puts on record where it has reached. Unfortunately, none has seriously started thinking about a real alternative.

from:  KRam
Posted on: Oct 25, 2013 at 12:44 IST

Wonderful article. Yes, politicians are the problem. Who are these Politicians they are the people among us. Public has not given enough pressure to question the parliamentary system and we teach our kids stay away from trouble. Recently supreme court said parents can inspect the school bus after the tragic accident because of the whole in the school bus. How many parents inspected these buses and no news on this. When Nelson Mandela was hospitalized, there was a call for all Africans to volunteer 60 minutes to remind his political career. Same way if every citizen in India spent the minutes instead of years that Gandhi fought for India, we are right direction in cleansing the political system-minimizing pot holes, power cuts...And which ever volunteer overcome lot of obstacles should be given chance to represent the people.

from:  marudah
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 16:33 IST

sir excellent write up .i acknowledge it completely .today it has
become an monotony of the executive in formulating an decision and
implementation with out taking into consideration of their own MP's views let alone opposition .this system will endanger the parliamnetary system itself .hope this type of system will change sooner .One more thing now a days many illiterate and well off (business) people are being elected as our leaders what knowledge they
will have on parliament procedures and their rights it would be better to keep an exam for them also so that they shpuld prove before they entering the sanctum saanctorum of our indian democracy(parliament).

from:  dr guha
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 15:58 IST

Indian Democratic system gets support from 3 pillars- Parliament,
Judiciary and executive. All of them have some attached privilege and
responsibilities. Inter alia, one prime work of the parliament is to
make executive accountable and keep close eye on the functioning of
executive. In recent years we have been witnessing that both organ of
government failed to perform their duties. There may be umpteen
contributing factors for this; one is deterioration in the standard of
members of parliament. Our parliament rests more and works less.
Debate and informed discussions on the matters of national interest is
the main business of parliament. If we compare the number of business
hours of first and recent Lok sabha, We would find that there is a
substantial reduction. Leave alone the quality of discussion.
Stringent and accelerated disciplinary actions should be taken against
the member who disrupts the functioning of parliament without any
legitimate reason.

from:  Kushagra
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 15:19 IST

The pains taken by the MP to expose the evils afflicting parliament is visible to the core. Surprisingly the author has left it to the readers to look out for remedy. My question is- In the council of ministers forming the government, there is one holding the portfolio “Minister for Parliamentary affairs”. Is it not his responsibility to ensure conduct of sessions, attendance during sessions and above all healthy discussions inside the House? If he is not responsible for arresting the decline in parliament’s proceedings, who else can stem the rot? Can we have the next “Lead article” from the Minister as a rejoinder? The Hindu may pl facilitate.

from:  S Raghavan
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 14:08 IST

Author has raised very important and valid points in this article. But the lead to improve situation has to come from true politicians I mean a politician who understands and controls political power. The decline in power of Parliamnet started after the introduction of rules governing defection of individual member from his party. The law was useful at that time but now its necessity is over and is strangulating the Parliament. I think Government of the day will have to be more responsive to Parliament if Individual members are powerful i.e. if single member can topple a government. Indian democracy is deep enough now to revert back and abolish the conditions put up against defection by individual members.

from:  ANIL P.
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 13:57 IST

Yes, there seems to be something wrong. It was Parliament which passed a retrospective amendment in the Income Tax Act but in the next year it is made that retrospective amendment is defective.

from:  SC Aggarwal
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 13:51 IST

When a significant number of legislators and parliamentarians have known criminal tendencies and/or are just too busy ensuring the financial stability of successive generations of their immediate families within that short five-year period till the next elections, what else can one expect?

from:  Glenn
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 12:46 IST

No parliamentarian should forget that he is a representative of the people and it is his responsibility to scrutinize every rupee spent by the executive in the name of public. In India we can hardly find any discussions on policies be it on mining, nuclear, foreign, economic,telecom,etc,.Debating on the policies is the major duty of the legislature as put by the framers of our constitution. Our executive uses outdated policies on above said issues,but the legislature in general and opposition in particular has no concern over it. It is the time for the members to develop an ideology on administration and policy matters and not to nod for the decisions taken by the party elite. Good article, given an unbiased info on reality in the parliament.

from:  Chenna Manikanteswara
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 12:25 IST

A case in point here is the Telangana issue - the ruling party seems to have taken a unilateral decision is haste. Here is a catch 22 situation : BJP harps on support for creation of smaller states, mounts pressure on Congress. COngress does nothing on the burning issue and all of a sudden decides that TG votebank is enough - suddenly they decide to speed up the process and now BJP is piques, they created 3 states without any fuss and this UPA only stokes fire. Instead this issue should have been deliberated in the parliament, opinions should be taken from the stakeholders from the state (the GoM does not have one respresentative from AP - this is farcical !!!) debated the issue thoroughly and then taken a decision. The author rightly sums up the parliamentary apathy in his concluding remarks. The constitution can be updated to ring in changes that may be required - but by and large its a wonderful work which must be respected and abided by. Hoping for change.

from:  Srikanth
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 11:42 IST

I fully agree with the views expressed by the author.Opposition and Government both seems reluctant for any discussion on the floor of Parliament.Government by the executive decision and Opposition by stopping the Houses opened the criticism on Indian Parliamentary System.

from:  suman Choudhary
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 11:38 IST

A timely and a balanced article. The author puts forth issues that are very relevant when the nation is on the verge of elections. Hope parliament takes cognizance of what is mentioned here. I also am of the view that the majority of the populace is blinded by the freebies on offer and end up voting for the wrong candidate, sometime even unitentionally. The current mix in the parliament has very learned persons, some ministers who show a serious inclination towards development, some tainted ministers who have been involved in scams and so on. What is really needed is a firm visionary at the helm - the current PM though learned and experienced, remains passive. We need a bold person at the helm and a team of committed parliamentarians who understand and uphold the true value of democracy. Bold electoral reforms and well as a team with knowledge and commitment is the need of the hour.Unless the parliamentarians show some seriousness, the current scenario is not going to change

from:  Srikanth
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 11:35 IST

This article is very apt for the current situation. Same problem applies
for telangana issue. It is more that a party or group of parties are
taking the decision, without having any discussion in parliament. Hope
this doesn't go to worse state.

from:  Mohan Krishna B
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 10:52 IST

This article shows the dipping level of democratic values of our
decision maker whether its member or minister.decision makers with
criminal case pending,businessman are affecting country owing to their
individual interest.NOTA button introduction is laudatory but I am sure
that will remain as button as our voters are not affected by type of
candidatures presented .political parties should field candidates who
are educated,have experience in field, ministers should be professional

from:  mansimran singh
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 10:43 IST

Everyone knows they have rights and they choose to use it to the maximum. However, the case of responsibility is part and parcel of the very rights people enjoy in a democratic nation. When the principles of democracy and the true spirit of it is ignored, you will end up with the proverbial 'banana republic'! India could be in the slippery slop of going that way if the parliamentarians do not confirm to the etiquette and parliamentary behavior expected of the 'honorable' ones. It all starts with the selection of candidates by the parties and the nominees need to be eminent and honorable.

from:  Saratchandran
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 10:16 IST

A wonderful article, by Sri Gurudas Das Gupta, on our present
Parliamentary System. But the fact is that this is known to every
citizen of this country and could NOT do anything on it. As senior
Member of Parliament, who has been a member for quite long time should
have come out with some solutions. Merely coming out with few serious
complaints won't solve the problem. As a senior Member of Parliament
please bring out some solutions. According to me there is no guide
lines on the responsibilities and accountability for a Member of
Parliament in this country at the same they enjoy all pervading powers
with the best pay packet available in the country with NO
RESPONSIBILITY or ACCOUNTABILITY. Unless and until the Parliament
spell out the Responsibility, Accountability and punishment for NOT
carrying out these responsibilities and account abilities things will
go on as it is. More over these Upper house and Lower house should be
chaired by Supreme Court Judges and not by another member.

from:  Gangadharan Nair
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 09:39 IST

It is indeed timely and apt that the learned MP has brought to the
notice of the voters in particular and citizens in general the
writings on the wall. Our academics and professionals must analyze
these facts and their likely consequences on our country's progress in
all respects. There is most urgent need to have a small group of
parliamentarians, bureaucrats, judiciary and media to threadbare
discuss these issues from all angles and suggest concrete policy
measures that can be accepted in the interest of our country's
democracy and people. Now our younger generation has to be enabled to
understand these issues of our parliamentary democracy and how best
our youth in particular can take leadership and initiatives to put
things in right perspective. Unfortunately our constitution failed to
anticipate the drastic conflict of interest between the Government and
legislators. This is because the Government representing each ministry
is headed by the elected MP as against that in the USA.

from:  Dr Amrit Patel
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 09:10 IST

The article rightly talks about the interruptions in the Parliament and
the lack of discussions on strategic issues. This is definitely a trying
time for the parliamentary system - the time when Congress Working
Committee, for satisfying its own political equation, can complete the
bifurcation of a state without any Parliamentary discussion.

from:  C Sivakumar Kashyap
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 09:10 IST

In short, the author who is a MP, seems to be saying that the present
Indian Govt is dictatorial, has bypassed Parliament, and has subverted
Indian democracy. Should the voters take note?

from:  D Mahapatra
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 09:10 IST

Indian parliamentary system is deteriorating day by day particularly
during last nine years' regime of UPA. Main reason behind this, I
think, is that 'Khas''Dar' (special door) through which
parliamentarian enters in a house has been widely opened to those who
have muscle, money, marketing(in case of horse trading) power.This has
kept a genuine party man away from participating in democratic
functionary. He has the will, sense of responsibility. But his
existence is buried under by money magnets. They are there to lobby
for benefits to their business empires that too at the cost of welfare
of common man. They have over the years slow poisoned our
parliamentary system. Indiscipline, absence of respect to others
views, chaotic behavior making sessions after sessions work less and
loss of national income on running the houses is shameless. Sense of
national duty towards voters is democratic religion of any member. It
is not practiced by majority members hence deterioration of system.

from:  Gajanan Ukhalkar
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 08:20 IST

Democracy in India disappeared when the largest political party in the
country became the political arm of a single family with no major
opposition to this in the country. Therefore there is no point in
discussing the ills of the country's "parliamentary system".

from:  K.Vijayakumar
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 07:44 IST

I agree with the author. I may add that the quality of debates in the parliament needs vast improvement. Many parliamentarians do not know how to present their view point in a given time-frame. Repeatedly, we see the pathetic scene of the Speaker urging the members to conclude. In spite of this warnings, the members go on speaking relentlessly. This has to change.

from:  Pramod Patil
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 07:18 IST

In the largest democratic country of the world- India, the three systems that govern the country, the parliamentary, the judiciary and the executive , are in jeopardy.The main root cause of the problem is the politician . The politicians of all political parties are destroying the democracy. The political party wants to stay in power by joining hands with useless , worthless ,and rogue politicians . The writer is exactly correct in pointing out the maladies of the political system. There is a cabinet minister from the state of Tamil Nadu who cannot speak a word in his own language and has never attended a parliamentary session. Do I have any expectation that the current Parliament members would be patriotic.? No. I do not even have a dream.

from:  Ken sundaram
Posted on: Oct 24, 2013 at 05:40 IST
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