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.
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.
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.)