Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
The winter session of the Parliament witnessed disruption and chaos as the opposition raised the issue of demonetisation in both houses. Since the winter session of Parliament in 2013, this session has recorded maximum number of lost hours. According to PRS Legislative research, LS has seen only 15% productivity and RS has seen only 18% productivity of the available time. This has resulted in almost washout in the winter session of the Parliament. Also, the focus of the politicians has been to make statements outside the Parliament rather than discussing the crucial issues within the house.
Can media replace Parliament?
No, it is not possible as both Parliament and media are part of democracy, but both have separate functions. One has a legislative body which deliberates, discusses policies, decisions on laws which are to be made or unmade. On the other hand, media is supposed to project public opinion which can influence all the institutions like Parliament, executive or judiciary.
Thus, both are needed by the society and country.
Parliament deliberates the policies, forces accountability of the government to MPs and finally people. The press adds to the power of the people to enforce accountability of the decision makers, whether it is Parliament, executive and may be judiciary too. So the roles are different.
Currently, what happens is that Parliament gets adjourned and the MPs rush to media outside. Media is just a platform to put forward the voice. But it cannot replace Parliament.
If Parliament meets, discusses issues and passes laws in peace, media’s role will be reporting and analysing the deliberations later own. Hence, the media is not saying to neglect Parliament.
Not a good precedent
Earlier, the Parliament was called a debate house where excellent, scintillating debates were being carried out between Parliamentarians on all issues. There used to be discussions as problems existed even then. Often the government was put on the mat as it was answerable to Parliament. Today, the standards of debates have come down and the standards of behaviour are falling. In the late 1990s, some kind of protests started taking shape inside the house. At that time, there was a reaction to the insensitivity and lack of insensitivity on the part of the government. This is the reason why certain amount of protests formed in the house and started thinking that making a speech is not enough as government will reply and matter will get over but the problem will still remain.
So, collective protests came into being, but they were happening very rarely. Disruption of the house happened at couple of occasions. But today, it has become a norm. During the Narsimha Rao government, while demanding the resignation of then communication minister, the Parliament was not allowed to function for three weeks at a go. It is from then, that it became a norm. Instead of discussion or putting pressure on government through occasional protest, the disruptions of the proceedings of the house itself became a kind of protest.
The problem is that the positions are not taken on the merit of the issue but on the basis of own convenience and the stand on the issue.
If there is really a future desired in which the Parliament functions, then the media will have to insist the politicians to behave and politicians take stand on the issues of procedure and propriety irrespective of their own stand on the issue.
Need for tolerance
Also, this is the first time that the treasury benches are creating as much ruckus as the opposition. This shows that the leaders are fast losing their interest in the institutions of democracy. In fact, they are willingly subverting democratic procedures because the treasury benches are stalling and disrupting the proceedings.
The culture of tolerance is missing in Parliament. Government doesn’t seem like to have dissent being voiced in Parliament. Earlier, Acharya Kriplani, Ram Manohar Lohiya gave tensioned speeches in Parliament against Nehru. But nobody was silenced. Now there is an atmosphere of silencing the opposition which leads to intolerance by the other side also. Thus, tolerance on dissent is very important.
There is hardly any hope of changes in near future as the Parliamentarians don’t realise the importance of the function they have to perform. Debate and discussions are sine qua non in a democracy. If that is not allowed to happen, the Parliament as an institutions credibility will get lost. The forum for discussion and passing the laws has to be the floor of the house not outside.
The influence of the TV plays a part as the MPs want to show that they are doing hard work of making other party accountable, and hence such disruptions are legitimate. While the Parliament gets adjourned, the committee meetings are in order. Nobody walks out. There are welcoming of ideas across the party lines.
Onus on the government
It is said that the onus lies on the government to makes sure that the Parliament functions smoothly. The adjournment motion or motion 56 plays an important role here. The opposition seeks to bring in the adjournment motion to raise the issues which seek immediate attention. But it has been seen that the presiding officers very rarely allow the adjournment motion on the floor of the house. There is a sense of fear that if adjournment motion gets passed, the government will be at a loss. But it needs to be understood that government has a majority in house and also, such motion only discusses the matters of grave importance.
Similarly, if the opposition demands motion under 184, and it complies with the stipulations of the rules, then it should be allowed. That is why the rule is there and the opposition has to be allowed to bring it in. The presiding officer should be conscious of the rights of the opposition also. They should look at the rules as the rules are to be used and invoked for different purposes and occasions.
It has been seen that if there is motion moved under 56 or 184 or give a notice for the same, the presiding officer doesn’t allow it. There can only be 193 motion, where there is discussion without voting. The point is that there should be recognition of the rights of the opposition also.
Participation of PM in proceedings
The PM has a constitutional duty to come to house, explain the decisions he has taken to both houses. He is the person charged with responsibility of ensuring executive accountability to Parliament as it is constitutional responsibility. It is not that somebody has to invite the PM to the house. It is a constitutional obligation. In the winter session, the problem in both the houses revolved around this issue. For sometime, this has been happening that if there is a ruckus in Parliament, the PM moves away from the house without intervening or bringing the house to order or reaching out to opposition. Even in running the Parliament the consensus is needed which needs to be understood by the Parliamentarians.
For the government of the day and as an individual, the PM is described as the leader of house and not only the leader of treasury benches. It is certainly the government’s constitutional and moral obligation to create situation conducive for debate, discussion and dissent.
If there has to be intolerance for dissent and every critic of the government is termed as anti-national and motivated and inspired across the borders, then there is no place for a healthy discussion. Parliament and media are cornerstones of individual structure. If it is not allowed to function, it will lose its credibility. Even the media is behaving in a peculiar manner, particularly the electronic media and in such situation, there are concerns about future of democracy as a real institutional framework as such. In a democracy or history as such, people who think themselves as very important, come and go but the institutions remain. Thus, institutions are more important than the individual.
The primary object of an adjournment motion is to draw the attention of the House to a recent matter of urgent public importance having serious consequences and in regard to which a motion or a resolution with proper notice will be too late. The matter proposed to be raised should be of such a character that something very grave which affects the whole country and its security has happened and the House is required to pay its attention immediately by interrupting the normal business of the House.
The adjournment motion is thus an extraordinary procedure which, if admitted, leads to setting aside the normal business of the House for discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance.
The subject matter of the motion must have a direct or indirect relation to the conduct or default on the part of the Union Government and must precisely pin-point the failure of the Government of India in the performance of its duties in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and Law. A matter which falls within the jurisdiction of a State Government is inadmissible, but a matter concerning the constitutional developments in a State or atrocities on the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and other weaker sections of the society which bring the Union Government into picture may be considered for admission on merits. The refusal to give his consent is in the absolute discretion of the Chair and he is not bound to give any reasons therefor.
Connecting the dots:
The institutional credibility is always above the individual’s personality. Examine in light of disruptions caused in Parliament and fallouts of the same.