Importance of Legislatures
TOPIC: General Studies 2
- Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
- Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
In an address by Vice President at a public lecture on “Importance of Legislatures” organized by PRS Legislative Research, he suggested a 10 point charter to ensure effective functioning of legislatures in the country. These measures are ought to be taken to sustain people’s faith in democracy.
The important ones are
- Quorum (minimum number of members) is not necessarily the responsibility of ruling party. It is all members’ responsibility as whole to make sure that business of house, i.e. important issues to be discussed and necessary legislations to be passed, is carried out smoothly and functions effectively.
- Judiciary should not overstep its duty and area of functioning because the balance of power is disturbed if too much of judicial overreach is there. (striking down of the Law for setting up a National Judicial Appointments Commission, imposing a Cess on the registration of vehicles in the National Capital Region, banning the use of diesel vehicles etc.)
- Strengthening research and generally improving quality of debate is what the legislators should focus at.
- The legislatures should function for more number of days. Even in states, such reform is required. However, for changes in minimum number of days, the legislature needs consensus.
- Stressed the functioning of standing committees.
- Quality of deliberations- MPs need more research and better support to reach for quality debate.
Why parliaments often get disrupted?
A ruling party in opposition would disrupt the house and when in ruling they want smooth running of house. So the roles reversal is a common nature of politics. However, when the legislators are on floor of house, they should ask if they are performing as per their status, as per people’s expectations and as per constitution’s demand. What people see is what people perceive and frequent disruptions of house lead to people’s faith erosion in its leaders and democracy as whole.
The First Lok Sabha had 677 sitting and passed 319 Bills during 1952-57 while it was 332 sitting and 247 Bills in the case of the 14th Lok Sabha during 2004-09. The 15th Lok Saha had 357 sittings and approved 181 Bills. These stats do not provide an encouraging picture that Parliament is shrinking its responsibilities. In this technologically upgrading world, people have become more aware of their rights and responsibilities. Thus, disruptions must be notified and disrupters must be suspended. The legislatures may display the names of such members in public domain with an observation that they have violated the rules in disregard of the directions of the Chair and there by adversely impacting the functioning of the House. This proposal is being considered by Rajya Sabha at present.
Measuring what legislative institutions are doing and its effect, in terms of output and outcome, have to be defined. This will make the legislators accountable to their constituency about their productivity. Additionally, the legislators must be assessed and ranked which will inspire them to perform better.
People’s perception about legislature
The general public feels that the parliament works only when the house is in session. The role of the committees comes into being when the parliament is not in session. Lot of work happens behind the scene but as they are privileged, they are not supposed to disclose their work. But from their speech, one can analyse their research and knowledge about the subject.
However, though the standing and the parliamentary committees puts in lot of effort but their findings are just recommendatory in nature. Not being mandatory, they do not bind the government and thus most of the time not taken seriously by government. This need to be examined and the parliamentary committees should have some power if they are recognized as mini parliaments.
Parliamentary Standing committees
There are total 24 Department Related Standing Committees including 8 of the Rajya Sabha which are undertaking rigorous scrutiny of the Demands for Grants of all the central ministries, legislative proposals and national level policy initiatives. These Committees have the power to summon senior officers of the Government and others concerned for obtaining evidence and information on related matters. Thus, it is not that Parliament works only when it is in session. It works round the clock on every single day.
Another issue is need of longer tenure for MPs on committees where currently they have one year tenure. Just when they are getting familiar with the subject, they get rotated out or parties might assign them another committee. If MPs have longer tenure, their expertise in the subject will increase and they will be able to hold the government accountable in more effective manner.
Conclusion- Making the legislatures stronger
With changing times, the rules also need to be tweaked and changed. Many important landmark bills have been reintroduced in the house with more refined content and quality compared to their quality when initially introduced. Thus, there is a need for scientific measurement of the effectiveness and productivity of legislature on a scale of 1 to 10 based on the number of sittings, bills passed, bills held up, members’ participation, duration of debate on each bill, quality of debates and range of issues of public interest debated, extent of disruptions, reports of Committees submitted etc.
Also, there is a need to address the ‘menace’ of members rushing towards the presiding officer’s podium, by bringing specific provisions in the rules of business for “automatic suspension” of those who do so.
Connecting the dots:
- Legislature reforms will trigger executive and judiciary discipline. Critically analyse.