Five ways to reduce Parliament disruption

·Columnist
·4 min read

Parliament was adjourned sine die on August 11, 2021, two days earlier than scheduled following ugly scenes of jostling between MPs and marshals in the Rajya Sabha.

The proceedings of Parliament were interrupted regularly as Opposition members protested inside both the Houses demanding discussions on surveillance using Pegasus and repealing the farm laws.

Parliament functioned for less than a quarter of the scheduled time, and several Bills were passed within minutes without any discussion.

As per PRS Legislature:

  • Lok Sabha sat for 21 hours, which is 21% of the scheduled time. This is the lowest since the Winter 2016 session, when Lok Sabha worked for 15% of its scheduled time.

  • Rajya Sabha sat for 29 hours which is 29% of the scheduled time. In the past ten years, Rajya Sabha has functioned for less than 25% of its scheduled time during five sessions.

The unruly scenes in Parliament and wastage of taxpayers’ money is a national shame. The above analysis by PRS shows that disruptions have become quite a regular feature of our Parliamentary system.

Both, the Opposition as well as ruling party, do not want to discuss and sort out issues due to ego tussle. One upmanship is forcing unparliamentary conduct from MPs leading to a mockery of our democratic institutions. Both sides have upped the ante and blamed each other for the deadlock. Taali ek haath se nahin bajti. Ultimately the people and democracy suffers.

What should be done to reduce disruptions?

1. Increase the number of sitting days of Parliament

In the 1950s, the Indian Parliament used to sit for 120-140 days every year; now the number has reduced to half, 60-70 days. Most democracies have Parliament functioning for 100 or more days in a year. This leads to dissatisfaction amongst MPs as they get inadequate time to air their grievances.

In 2001, a conference was held to understand what causes disorder and the changes required to prevent it. The conference resolved that Parliament should meet for 110 days every year and larger state legislative assemblies for 90 days. But this has not been implemented by successive governments.

2. Follow the United Kingdom model

In the UK, the Parliament meets for more than 100 days a year and out of these, 20 days are reserved for the opposition. On these days the opposition determines the agenda for discussion in Parliament. The main opposition party gets 17 days and the remaining 3 days are allotted to the second-largest opposition party.

The decisions of the House passed on these days are not binding on the government. However, they provide an opportunity for the opposition to focus attention on issues of national importance. Canada also has a similar concept. Since the government decides the schedule of the Parliament, it helps in restoring balance.

3. Motion with 10% MPs should be accepted

Any adjournment motion which has the written backing of 10% or 20% of members of the House should be compulsorily taken up for discussion by the Speaker. This has been suggested by M R Madhavan.

A no-confidence motion requires the consent of just 50 MPs, so why not any other issue of national importance be discussed if 10% / 20% of the House deems fit. No regional party normally has more than 10% MPs in the House. This would also filter very local / unimportant issues from being brought up.

4. Pay proportionate daily allowances to MPs

MPs get a dearness allowance (DA) of Rs 2,000 per day when the Parliament is in session. The combined strength of the two houses and the current session scheduled for 19 days translates into a DA cost of Rs 3 crore.

Since Parliament has functioned for only a quarter of the scheduled time, MPs should be paid only 25% of their dues. Who all should be denied DA? MPs who create ruckus and are absent or all MPs? All MPs should be denied DA since functioning of the Parliament is as much the responsibility of the treasury benches as well as the Opposition.

This will put the onus on the ruling party to arrive at a common ground and ensure Parliament functions. One could argue this is unfair on MPs who are present daily and obey the Chair. Denial of DA to these MPs can be construed as collateral damage.

5. Summon House in extraordinary circumstances

The parliamentary schedule is decided by the government. This provides the ruling party the power to postpone or curtail a session if faced with an uncomfortable situation, or allegations of a scam.

Madhavan suggests that rules should be amended to ensure that the House can be summoned, if not in session, if a significant minority (25% or 33%) of MPs give a written notice to the Speaker.

To sum up, a combination of these steps would hopefully fix the issue of repeated disruptions. Whichever party is in power should recognise the fact that they could be in Opposition at some point and these steps (which may appear to be accommodative at this stage) could come in handy in the future.

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