Parliament and State Legislatures ? structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
Reforming Indian Parliament
Parliament is supposed to be a union of exemplary orators, with a grass-roots touch. Unfortunately, one is rarely inspired by the quality of India’s parliamentary debates nowadays.
Parliamentary debates, which once focused on national and critical issues, are now more about local problems, viewed from a parochial angle.
Poor attendance by our Members of Parliament (MPs), poor quality of debates and pandemonium marking the proceedings, there is seemingly little value that a parliamentary representative can add to the policy discourse.
Low productivity- Between the 1950s and the 1960s, the Lok Sabha used to meet for an average of 120 days in a year. In comparison, in the last decade, it has met for an average of 70 days a year. Its productivity in the 2016 winter session was 14%, while that of the Rajya Sabha was 20%.
Political power continues to be a male bastion. The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have not seen women MPs cross the 12% mark. In 2012, India ranked 20th from the bottom in terms of representation of women in Parliament. While the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments enabled the reservation of 33% of seats in local government, political representation by women candidates continues to be subdued, with no significant rise in the number of women MLAs.
Parliamentary legislation is being hastily drafted and being rushed through Parliament in an ad hoc and haphazard manner. In 2008, for instance, 16 Bills were passed with less than 20 minutes of debate.
The non-passage of private member Bills. Only the second half of every Friday, during a parliamentary session, is devoted to debating private member Bills. To date, only 14 private member bills have been passed.
Even the individual voting record of MPs remains unknown. With no record maintained of the voting record associated with each MP, it is difficult to distinguish their individual progressive or conservative nature, let alone their leadership abilities. Currently, the Anti-Defection Act punishes MPs who deviate from their parties’ stated position, with the risk of losing their seats.
Most MPs have limited or no research staff, leaving them bereft of expert in-house advice. Parliament’s Library and Reference, Research, Documentation and Information Service (LARRDIS) currently has a sanctioned strength of 231 staffers but employs 176, about 8% of the total strength of the Lok Sabha secretariat. In comparison, the Congressional Research Service, a part of the Library of the U.S. Congress, employs 600 people, of whom 400 are policy analysts, attorneys and sectoral experts, while the Congressional Budget Office has an additional 200 people. Other parliaments offer funds to hire research teams for MPs.
While our Parliament lacks the power to convene itself, it should have a minimum mandated number of days to meet. The National Commission to review the working of the Constitution recommended 120 and 100 days for the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, respectively. Odisha has already shown the way, mandating a minimum of 60 days for the State Assembly to sit.
The male domination needs to be changed dramatically, beginning with the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill (108th amendment) reserving 33% of all seats in Parliament and State legislatures for women.
We need a systematic approach to legislative engineering and prioritisation — the parliamentary committee, an unfashionable institution, long out of vogue, can assume institutional importance in this process. For a backbencher MP, such committees offer a place to raise issues in the general public interest and conduct advocacy amidst legislative engineering.
As highlighted by the Law Ministry, we require a constitution committee. Instead of constitutional amendments being presented to Parliament like ordinary pieces of legislation in the form of Bills, often at short notice, it would be desirable to have the committee conduct an appropriate priori scrutiny before the actual drafting of the proposal for constitutional reform.
The Anti-Defection Act needs to be recast, and used only in the most exceptional circumstances, while allowing MPs free rein on their self-expression. The U.K., for example, has the concept of a free vote allowing MPs to vote as they wish on particular legislative items.
Investing in Parliament’s intellectual capital is necessary and additional budgetary support should be provided while assisting MPs in employing research staff.
We also need an institutionalised process to raise the quality and rigour associated with the budget scrutiny process. India needs a parliamentary budget office(PBO), akin to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, which can be an independent and impartial institution devoted to conducting a technical and objective analysis of any Bill with spending or revenue raising requirements.
India’s citizens need a more robust legislative system that offers public representatives — our MPs, Ministers and the Prime Minister — a greater sense of authority. Parliament should be a space for policy and not for politics. We need to undertake reforms to ensure that it is recast as such.
Connecting the dots:
Indian Parliament needs some urgent reforms. Discuss.
TOPIC: General studies 2:
Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources
Diabetes: Spreading among poor
A major study conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) found that the urban poor both in the developed and the developing world are increasingly becoming diabetic. The largest national study conducted by the ICMR and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has found that in the urban areas of the more economically advanced states, diabetes is higher among people from lower socio-economic status than those from the upper strata. However, in all the states, in the rural areas the disease was seen among those of a higher socio-economic status. The findings imply that overall the disease is spreading to sections that were hitherto considered unaffected or less affected—poorer urban dwellers and better off rural dwellers. This is a cause for not just concern but even alarm.
Cause of concern:
Diabetes is a “high maintenance” disease that leads to severe damage to the heart, kidneys and eyes apart from risk of gangrene if mismanaged. Given the state of the public health system in the country, and the fact that the poor have to pay for healthcare, the findings must be treated as a distress signal on an urgent basis.
Given that people in rural areas and poorer communities in cities are unable to access care earlier, they would be more prone to advanced complications such as renal failure and blindness due to retinopathy.
Since 70% of the population lives in rural areas, even a small increase in percentage of people suffering from diabetes adds up to a large number of people who need sustained medical attention but have access to poor health services.
For many poorer people in cities, nutritionally well-balanced food may not be within their means. Eating “junk food” is thus not a matter of choice or taste as much as affordability.
Higher income levels, less physically demanding occupations and increased availability of mechanised transport and household appliances among urban dwellers to possibly explain the higher incidence of the disease in urban areas.
The pressure of commuting long distances to work and the need to use the public transport system is also not a matter of choice for urban poor. These issues lead to the build-up of stress—another factor that is among the causes of the disease.
Asian Indians progress faster through the pre-diabetes stage than those of other ethnic groups. Also, as in other countries where diabetes is spreading rapidly, in India too, recreational physical activity is very low, more so, among women from all sections.
People living in urban areas have access to diabetes care services and can afford the associated out-of-pocket expenditure. However, people living in semi-urban and rural areas do not have access to diabetes centres or clinics that provide comprehensive care.
The other reasons for this shift could be the increased awareness of healthy practices among affluent sections, which means they are engaging in physical activity and making necessary dietary changes to keep non communicable diseases at bay.
Way forward: The ICMR findings call for urgent short- and long-term interventions.
The government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the medical community and diabetics will have to join hands to ensure that community involvement is encouraged.
Starting with the availability of nutritious food and facilities for physical recreational activities, a sustained campaign to spread awareness of the disease is needed.
The situation calls for more long-term policy interventions that go beyond packaging and advertising of fast food.
Stress and strain have become important factors in the increase of incidence of diabetes in mostly middle and lower middle classes and rural poor. Thus, besides change of lifestyles, peaceful atmosphere is also very crucial in reducing diabetes. Health care policies along with peaceful life approach would help in containing the spread of diabetes in the country at an alarming rate in the country
Ensuring the supply of nutritious food and creating public spaces for people to exercise is required. The National Program for Control of Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke, which has been rolled out across the country, could also help improve diabetes awareness levels at a national level.
Infectious diseases remain the largest concern in developing countries. However, non-communicable diseases like diabetes (known appropriately as the silent killer) are spreading at a frightening rate. In the 21st century, if we are not to sentence large sections of the population to a half-life, we must act quickly and in concert.
Connecting the dots:
While diabetes is usually seen as a concern for better-off section of society, a recent study conducted by ICMR and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare highlights a surprising trend of increase in diabetes among poor. Discuss the factors driving such trend and steps that should should be taken to prevent this epidemic spread among poor.
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