Dormant Parliament, fading business
Context: The Budget session of Parliament ended, two weeks ahead of the original plan, as many political leaders are busy with campaigning for the forthcoming State Assembly elections.
- This follows the trend of the last few sessions: the Budget session of 2020 was curtailed ahead of the lockdown imposed following the novel coronavirus pandemic, a short 18-day monsoon session ended after 10 days as several Members of Parliament and Parliament staff got affected by COVID-19, and the winter session was cancelled.
- As a result, the fiscal year 2020-21 saw the Lok Sabha sitting for 34 days (and the Rajya Sabha for 33), the lowest ever.
- The casualty was proper legislative scrutiny of proposed legislation as well as government functioning and finances.
- While COVID-19 was undoubtedly a grave matter, there is no reason why Parliament could not adopt remote working and technological solutions, as several other countries did.
No Bill scrutiny:
- An important development this session has been the absence of careful scrutiny of Bills.
- During the session, 13 Bills were introduced, and not even one of them was referred to a parliamentary committee for examination.
Money Bill classification:
- The last few years have seen the dubious practice of marking Bills as ‘Money Bills’ and getting them past the Rajya Sabha.
- Some sections of the Aadhaar Act were read down by the Supreme Court of India due to this procedure.
- The Finance Bills over the last few years have contained several unconnected items such as restructuring of tribunals, introduction of electoral bonds, and amendments to the foreign contribution act.
- The Constitution requires the Lok Sabha to approve the expenditure Budget of each department and Ministry.
- The Lok Sabha had listed the budget of just five Ministries for detailed discussion and discussed only three of these; 76% of the total Budget was approved without any discussion.
The missing Deputy Speaker:
- A striking feature of the current Lok Sabha is the absence of a Deputy Speaker.
- Article 93 of the Constitution states that “The House of the People shall, as soon as may be, choose two members of the House to be respectively Speaker and Deputy Speaker”.
- Usually, the Deputy Speaker is elected within a couple of months of the formation of a new Lok Sabha, with the exception in the 1998-99 period, when it took 269 days to do so.
- By the time of the next session of Parliament, two years would have elapsed without the election of a Deputy Speaker.
Parliamentary scrutiny is key:
- Parliament has the central role in our democracy as the representative body that checks the work of the government.
- It is also expected to examine all legislative proposals in detail, understand their nuances and implications of the provisions, and decide on the appropriate way forward. In order to fulfil its constitutional mandate, it is imperative that Parliament functions effectively.
- This will require making and following processes such as creating a system of research support to Members of Parliament, providing sufficient time for MPs to examine issues, and requiring that all Bills and budgets are examined by committees and public feedback is taken.
- In sum, Parliament needs to ensure sufficient scrutiny over the proposals and actions of the government.