The many lows of the 17th Lok Sabha: Data

Data show that Parliament functioning has been generally been on a decline in the post-1990 period

February 19, 2024 09:30 am | Updated February 21, 2024 05:22 pm IST

The 17th Lok Sabha sent only 16% of Bills for scrutiny, the lowest in the past four Lok Sabhas

The 17th Lok Sabha sent only 16% of Bills for scrutiny, the lowest in the past four Lok Sabhas | Photo Credit: (ANI Photo/Sansad TV)

Of all the Lok Sabhas with completed terms, the 17th Lok Sabha witnessed several regrettable firsts. It was the first to not appoint a Deputy Speaker, it recorded the lowest number of sittings, it passed significant legislation such as criminal reform Bills when more than 70% of the Opposition MPs were suspended, and the Prime Minister did not answer any questions orally and only one in writing. While these developments mark a new low in parliamentary functioning, this is not an anomaly; rather, it is a trend that has continued for more than 30 years.

Also read |Parliament since 2004: A saga of disruption and lack of deliberation | Data

The annual average of Bills passed declined from 65 in the 1952-1990 period to 48 in 1991-2023. The number of Bills sent to committees for scrutiny also dwindled consistently, with the 17th Lok Sabha sending only 16% of Bills for scrutiny, the lowest in the past four Lok Sabhas (Chart 1).

Chart 1 | The chart shows the number of Bills passed (left axis) by the Lok Sabha and the % of Bills scrutinised (right axis).

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The declining number of sitting days and hours in the Lok Sabha limits the scope for debates and diminishes MPs’ participation. Prior to 1990, each Lok Sabha typically convened for over 550 days on average, spanning 3,500 hours. However, post-1990, an average Lok Sabha only meets for 345 days, spanning less than 1,800 hours. The 17th Lok Sabha had the least number of sittings (274) (Chart 2).

Chart 2 | The chart shows the number of sittings in days (left axis) and sitting hours (right axis) per Lok Sabha.

Parliamentary tools allow MPs to ensure executive accountability and remediate potential issues for their constituents. A half-hour discussion enables MPs to deliberate on responses to parliamentary questions. Before the 1990s, there were 88 such discussions per Lok Sabha. Post-1990, there were only 11 half-hour discussions per Lok Sabha. The 17th Lok Sabha permitted only one such discussion, marking an all-time low. Short-duration discussions, permitting members to initiate discussions on matters of public importance, were prevalent before 1990, averaging 46 per Lok Sabha. Post-1990, this number diminished to 39, with the 17th Lok Sabha engaging in only 13 such discussions. Calling attention, a vital tool allowing MPs to draw attention to issues and elicit responses from ministers was extensively used between 1957 and 1990, with an average of 300 notices allowed per Lok Sabha. Post-1990, only 40 notices have been allowed per Lok Sabha. The 17th Lok Sabha allowed only one such discussion. The adjournment motion, employed to address urgent issues with a subsequent vote, serves as an expression of disagreement with the government’s policies. Pre-1990, the Lok Sabha permitted discussion and voting on four such motions on average. Post-1990, this number decreased to three. The 16th and 17th Lok Sabha allowed no adjournment motions (Chart 3).

Chart 3 | The chart shows the use of various parliamentary tools per Lok Sabha.

There has also been a substantial decline in the time spent on discussing the Union Budget, Ministry-wise demands, and the Finance Bill, from around 120 hours annually before 1990 to a mere 35 hours post-1990. Notably, ministry-wise demands have been passed without discussion only five times since 1952 — and all of them after 1999 (Chart 4).

Chart 4 | The chart shows the time spent on discussing the Union Budget (in hours).

Scholars and experts identified this trend early on, with a notable instance being a 2000 paper authored by Dr. Subhash C Kashyap, the former Secretary-General of Lok Sabha. He proposed the establishment of a Parliamentary Reforms Commission or a ‘Study of Parliament Group’ outside parliamentary confines. Urgent and comprehensive parliamentary reforms are imperative to restore the efficacy of parliamentary procedures and practices.

Ankita Dinkar is a Policy Researcher and Former LAMP Fellow

Source: Statistical Handbook published by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, PRS Legislative Research, and Resume of Work Done by Lok Sabha

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