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Growing concern over less debates and more disruptions in Legislatures

Saturday, April 14, 2018
By Prakash Bal Joshi

It is high time we sit up and take serious note of what is happening to our legislatures, state legislative assemblies or Parliament where more acrimonious noise is generated than serious debates over national issues.

We helplessly witness how these houses are functioning, what kinds of issues are raised in most disorderly manners and how days on end are wasted without conducting any business over power politics. There are avenues where political parties can indulge in slugfests and test their lung power to make their points but legislatures are the last place where everybody should sit down for serious debate and resolve contentious issues.

Presenting and passing the annual budget which directly affects every citizen is the most important job of the Parliament to consider. However, this year’s annual budget was passed without any debate as the house rarely held any discussion on any issue except creating dust and din over contentious political and emotional issues.

No debates should worry everybody
The tone and tenor of speeches, filthy language used during hectic election campaigns can at some time be tolerated but no debate in the legislatures is really a factor which should worry everybody concerned with functional and effective democracy in the country. Over the years, the number of hours spent debating in the legislatures across the states and also in the Parliament have gone down. There was time when in some states, the assemblies rarely met and even if they had sittings most of the government functioning was done through ordinances and the houses merely approved them. No wonder there was jungle raj in some of these states.

Take a look at the way  business was conducted during the budget session of the Parliament. Disruptions led to total loss of more than 127 hours of the Budget session in the Lok Sabha. Only one per cent of the starred questions could be answered as they are taken at the beginning of the day before the house takes up any other matter. Once the chair called for starred questions, house used to plunge into chaos as members used to run to the well of the house to raise the issue close to their heart. Result, no issues could be discussed, government bills and budget passed in din without any debate. Most of the second part of the budget session was washed off.

Interruptions and forced adjournments were part of most of the day. Speaker Sumitra Mahajan really had a tough time. She had made repeated appeals for order reminding members that the House is a sacred and highest platform for the members to raise issues related to public interest and public welfare. However, the political concerns of the ruling as well as the opposition made it almost impossible for easy conduct of the house. Most of the time,  issues like the PNB scam and controversy over scheduled cast and scheduled tribe act took all the time leading to adjournments. Adjournments, obstructions and slogan shouting is not new to  Parliament but the current budget session of the Parliament turned out to be most unproductive session since 2000 as it was totally washed out. As per the house records, the time spent on the government business was only three minutes in Rajya Sabha and 14 minutes in Lok Sabha.

According to available data, on an average, the Lok Sabha has spent 53 hours discussing the Budget since 2000, while the Rajya Sabha spent 23 hours.

While the brief first half was productive, the second barely functioned as TRS, YSR Congress, TDP and AIADMK raised issues concerning the special status to Andhra Pradesh and MPs from Tamil Nadu wanted immediate solution to Kaveri water crisis. The no confidence motion moved by some of the parties was supported by the Congress and other parties, resulting in further adjournments of the house.

Who is to be blamed for such impasse totally obfuscating functioning of the Parliament? If we see the observations made and allegations made by the ruling and the opposition leaders, they blame each other for the impasse in  Parliament. The treasury benches blame the Congress-led opposition for creating situation which is not allowing the smooth functioning of the house. The opposition blames the government for not allowing the opposition to raise important issues and face the situation.

They blamed the ruling parties for not taking up the no-confidence motion in the house and face the opposition attack on the functioning of the government. As per rule, minimum 50 MPs have to support a no-confidence motion, but the Speaker could not count the number as members kept on walking to the well and shouting slogans.

While several MPs gave notices to move no-confidence motions against the government, none could be taken up for discussion and consideration due to continued disruptions. This is the first no-confidence notice given against Narendra Modi government in the 16th Lok Sabha. A no-confidence motion was also moved in the 15th Lok Sabha in 2013 but was not discussed. In the 14th Lok Sabha, a no-confidence motion was converted to a confidence vote in the UPA government and was won by the ruling party. Congress leader in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge had alleged that the regional parties and the BJP had some tacit understanding so that the no confidence motion could not be taken up for debate in the house. It was refuted by the Parliamentary affairs minister Anant Kumar.  

Nothing unusual in motion
There is nothing unusual in the tabling of a no confidence motion against the government by the opposition benches. The founding fathers of the nation have made provision where the opposition can use this extreme legislative weapon to corner the government on the floor of the house. Indira Gandhi was one of the most powerful prime ministers the country has seen but no confidence motions were moved against her 15 times. Lal Bahaddur Shastri had the shortest stint as a Prime Minister for 18 had to face no confidence motion for three times. What is required from present generation of politicians is the respect to rules and practices of the Parliament. Unless such respect comes from all quarters, how can  Parliament function smoothly and help people resolve their conflicts and solve their problems.  

The first responsibility of the Parliament and its members is to discuss, debate, suggest amendments to the government proposals before finally passing the law. They have power to even change the tax proposal or budget allocations. When politics takes first seat and prime responsibility is relegated to the back seat, then the members are failing to do their primary duty. Whether they do their duty or not, they keep on getting paid for the day and if one goes by what people are saying on social media, the principle of no work no play should also be applicable to the Parliament members.

And this principle should also be automatically be applied in all the state legislature where similar culture exists. No one will say that they should not protest to highlight certain important emotional issues but they should be more creative and protest without hampering the smooth functioning of the house.

There seems to trust deficit between the ruling and the opposition leadership leading to such extreme positions leading to total wash out of the session. Its joint responsibility bestowed by people on all elected representatives to ensure smooth and healthy functioning of the Parliament.

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