Strengthening Parliamentary Institutions
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 News: Vice President Venkaiah Naidu pushed for the Women’s Reservation Bill and reforms in the way Parliament works including a code of conduct for lawmakers and greater powers to the presiding officer to deal with disruptive legislators. The Vice President also suggested a list of broad framework of reforms for parliamentary institutions to “enhance the trust of the people in them.
He unveiled a reform charter as the basis for a new political normal to enable effective functioning of the Parliament and State Legislatures. He dwelt at length on the present pitfalls of parliamentary democracy in the country while delivering the first ‘Arun Jaitely Memorial Lecture on Strengthening of Parliamentary Institutions in the Country’ at Delhi University.
Called for a new political consciousness urging all the stakeholders to review their mind-set with regard to their roles and responsibilities –
A. Over poor attendance in the legislatures and the quality of debates: Urged the political parties to ensure attendance of at least 50% of their legislators all through the proceedings of the Houses by adopting a roster system.
- This suggestion came in the context of Parliament being forced to be adjourned due to lack of quorum of the required presence of 10% of the strength of the Houses.
- Responding to the concerns over stifling of the freedom of expression of the legislators due to issuance of ‘Whip’, Shri Naidu called for a review of the same so as to enable reasonable degree of dissent without impacting the stability of the government.
- The Vice President also advocated a thorough review of the Anti-Defection Law to rectify the grey areas like incentivising legislators to resort to actions inviting expulsion from the party besides providing for time bound disposal of defection cases by the Presiding Officer.
B. Functioning of the Department Related Standing Committees: Surfacing of issues like –
- Declining attendance
- Lack of specialisation
- Limited tenure of one year
- Frequent hopping of Committees
- Shri Naidu said that measures are needed for effective functioning of these committees with longer tenure instead of the present one year, promoting specialisation by nominating the Members for a longer period etc.
C. Need for well-thought out and focused legislation with the participation of stakeholders:
- Proposed a detailed framework based pre and post Legislative Impact Assessment
- He stressed that every legislative proposal shall incorporate a detailed account of social, economic, environmental and administrative impact for wider awareness and subsequent assessment of the effect of legislation on ground.
D. ‘First Pass The Post (FPTP)’ system of electing people’s representatives is faulty to the extent that MPs and MLAs are being elected with substantially less than 50% of voter support:
- The proportional representation being advocated in some quarters would lead to promotion of further social and political cleavages besides being not practical due to implementation issues.
- In the recent elections to the 17th Lok Sabha, a large number of Members were elected with more than 50% voter support which would further increase with the changing preference of voters based on developmental concerns.
E. ‘Parliamentary form of Government’ is one of the features of the ‘Basic structure of the Constitution’ and is accordingly beyond the power of Parliament to be amended as per the settled position in the matter. He said that the alternative of ‘Presidential form of Government’ for India is no option by virtue of the same.
F. On role of caste, community, region and religion in influencing the voting preferences in the country:
- There is growing evidence to suggest the decline of such identity based voting but it needs to be completely stamped out.
- While the Indian public has been steadfast in patronising democracy since the first General Elections in 1952 with ever rising turnout, there is a need for new consciousness in the form of moving away from the remnants of identity based voting to that of development oriented exercise of voting preferences.
G. Government & Opposition:
- There is a need for the governments to be responsive to the concerns of the Opposition and the Opposition to be responsible and constructive during the debates and while criticising the government and opposing legislation.
- Frequent disruptions, Points of Order without a point, Adjournment Motions and interruptions betray political immaturity, exhibitionism, excessive fondness for the limelight and inadequate appreciation of the need to utilise the opportunity of serving the public interest.
H. Building consensus on simultaneous polls to let unfettered governance
I. Enacting for reservation of women in legislatures:
- At present, women’s representation in Parliament is 13% only.
- Lok Sabha did not pass the Geeta Mukherjee Committee’s report which was presented in 1996 talked about it. In 2010, the Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha.
J. Making rules that automatically take effect against erring members in case of interruptions and disruptions
K. Regular publication of reports by the Secretariats of Legislatures on the attendance of Members and their participation in debates
L. Doing away with the winnability as the sole criterion for selecting contestants by the parties to address the concern of rising number of legislators with criminal record
Connecting the Dots:
- Do you think India’s democratic institutions got further strengthened post emergency? Analyse.
- Legislature reforms will trigger executive and judiciary discipline. Critically analyse.
- The departmentally related standing committees are rightly called as “mini-parliaments”. Strengthening their working will improve Parliament’s overall effectiveness. Analyze. Also discuss ways to strengthen these committees.
- Explain the concept of ‘doctrine of separation of powers’. Also examine its significance in a parliamentary democracy.