13th August, 2021 Polity
Recently, parliament was disrupted on regular basis.
- According to PRS data, Lok Sabha took only 34 minutes on average to pass a Bill, while Rajya Sabha did it in 46 minutes. Some Bills, like the Limited Liability Partnership (Amendment) Bill, 2021, were passed within five minutes.
- Lok Sabha sat for 21 hours and 14 minutes in the Monsoon Session against the stipulated time of 96 hours, thus losing 74 hours and 46 minutes to interruptions.
Reasons for Disruptions:
- Discussion on matters of controversy and public importance: a number of disruptions in Parliament stem from discussions on either listed topics that are controversial, or unlisted matters that are of public importance.
- Grandstanding by the leaders and members of the opposition: Since live telecast of the debates on television (on Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha TV Channels) can be viewed by any member of the public, and any significant disruption is likely to be carried in the news cycle on matters of immediate controversy or, more generally, on matters of public importance, several MPs, it appears, use parliamentary disruptions as a tool for gaining greater visibility in the public eye.
- Privileging Party over Member: Due to the application of the anti-defection law, an MP who, for instance, does not approve of disruptions on the floor of the House, may be compelled to toe the party line during parliamentary discussions, and be forced to tolerate or actively support disruptions by the leaders and other members of his party.
- Disruptions may help ruling party evade responsibility: ruling governments may, in some cases, schedule the transaction of business of each Session in such manner so as pave the way for greater disruptions in Parliament. Such disruptions make it impossible for the Speaker/Chairman to conduct the Question Hour/Zero Hour, and, in some sense, allow governments to avoid answering questions that are posed to them.
- Lack of dedicated time for unlisted discussion: disruptions also get triggered due to lack of adequate time for raising questions and objections in respect of matters that are not listed for discussion in a particular, or during a particular session, in general.
- Scarce resort to disciplinary powers: There has been scarce resort to disciplinary powers by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. As a result, most members engaging in disorderly conduct are neither deterred nor restrained from engaging in such conduct.
Impact of Disruptions:
- With Parliament being disrupted routinely, Members of Parliament (MPs) are not able to ask ministers tough questions during question hour to assess the work that their ministries are doing.
- With disruptions eating into the time available for Parliamentary business, adequate time is not available for debating legislation. As a result, Bills either get passed without effective debate or remain pending in Parliament.
- With Parliament meeting for a fewer number of days and with its productivity falling on account of disruptions, MPs are not able to raise matters of urgent public importance and bring it to the attention of the government.
- Reduction of salaries of suspended Members as a deterrent against misbehaviour The reduction of salaries of MPs in accordance with the period of suspension can serve as an effective deterrent for members to prevent them indulging in behaviour that could result in suspension from the House. Though this power is scarcely used in the jurisdictions studied, the fact of its availability might be a key determinant in ensuring less disruptive behaviour.
- Provision for Opposition-led discussion in the House : serve as an effective tool for the Opposition to discuss issues of policy and implementation with the government.
- Provision for Prime Minister’s Questions: A provision which ensures the presence of the leader of the Cabinet/government in a House of Parliament would also ensure that the members of the Opposition can avail of the opportunity to address policy issues by engaging directly with the Prime Minister.
- Asymmetric structuring of sessions with sufficient flexibility : Flexibility in the structuring of the sessions could also go a long way to ensure reduction of time wasted as a result of disruptions and interruptions, as well as to ensure that crucial aspects of effective parliamentary functioning, such as opposition-led discussion or Prime Minister’s Questions continue unhindered.
- Need to increase the no of sitting of parliament: The House of Commons also sits for about 150 days in a year with an average sitting lasting for seven and a half hours. Currently our Parliament meet for an average of 70 days in a year