Parliament is abdicating its oversight role

Parliament is abdicating its oversight role


  • The monsoon session of Parliament which ended recently was a disappointment in several ways. 
  • This was the fourth straight session that ended ahead of the original schedule — other than the cancelled winter 2020 session. 
  • Due to disruption in parliament many important issues had not been discussed such as the COVID-19 response and strategy, the Chinese incursion into Ladakh, the economic situation, rising prices of many essential items, and farmers’ problems etc. 
  • The news of snooping using the Pegasus system broke out just ahead of the session and has also gone undiscussed.

Shrinking work time

  • Both Houses were frequently disrupted as the Government and Opposition parties could not agree on the topics to be debated. 
  • The Lok Sabha worked for just 19% of its originally scheduled time, and the Rajya Sabha for 26%.
  • The Government pushed through 20 Bills, mostly without any discussion.

    Parliament is abdicating its oversight role
    Source: The Hindu
  • Of the 18 Bills passed by the Lok Sabha, only one saw discussion over 15 minutes.
  • While the Rajya Sabha crossed this low bar for most Bills, only two Bills were discussed for over an hour.
  • In 15 of these Bills, not even one member of the Lok Sabha spoke; each Bill was passed after a short statement by the respective Minister.
  • The Lok Sabha proceedings show one Bill — the Scheduled Tribes (Order) Amendment — as being discussed for 10 minutes within which seven members spoke, two Ministers intervened, and the Minister replied.

Bill passed within the session

  • Every Bill introduced during the session was passed within the session.
  • This means that there was no time for any scrutiny by members.
  • While the country has seen such behaviour in State Assemblies (in 2020, 91% of all Bills in 19 Assemblies were passed within five days of introduction), this is a new development for Parliament.
  • In the period of the Fifteenth Lok Sabha (2009-14), 18% of the Bills were passed within the same session.
  • This rose to 33% in the Sixteenth Lok Sabha and is at 70% halfway through the current Parliament.

No time for scrutiny

  • None of the Bills was referred to a parliamentary committee for examination. 
  • These committees provide a forum for parliamentarians to engage with experts, stakeholders and government officials to understand the implications of Bills. 
  • They deliberate on the consequences of various provisions, and recommend amendments. 
  • In recent years, we have seen significant changes made in Bills such as the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code and Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill as a result of the recommendations made by parliamentary committees. 
  • There has been a sharp downward trend in Bills being referred to them — from 71% in the Fifteenth Lok Sabha to 27% in the Sixteenth, and 12% in the current one till date.

Members absent during the vote

  • There was an amendment moved in the Rajya Sabha to refer the Tribunals Reform Bill to a select committee of that House, and the motion was rejected by 79 votes to 44. 
  • Given that there are currently 232 members, this indicates that nearly half the members were absent during the vote.
  • Thus, we see that Bills are being passed without any serious examination by parliamentarians.
  • Bills are most often not referred to committees, there is hardly any discussion on the floor of the House, and in most instances, Bills are passed within a few days of introduction.

The Crucial Bill

  • The Constitution was amended to allow States to identify backward classes (i.e., Other Backward Classes) for the purpose of providing reservations.
  • A recent Constitution Amendment has converted the National Commission for Backward Classes from a statutory body set up by an Act of Parliament to a constitutional body.
  • That amendment also specified that the President of India shall specify the list of OBCs.
  • Recently, the Supreme Court of India had interpreted this provision to imply that the State government cannot issue the list of backward classes.
  • The Amendment passed this session clarified that States have the power to do so.

Amendment in  Income Tax Act

  • In 2012, the Income Tax Act was amended with retrospective effect from 1961 to cover certain transactions. 
  • A Bill passed this session reversed this provision of retrospective taxation. 
  • Famously, Vodafone was required to pay a large sum under the now repealed provision.

The Tribunals Reforms Bill

  •  The Bill replaced an ordinance which specified the process of appointment of members and their tenure and service conditions. 
  • It retained two provisions struck down last month by the Supreme Court: the four-year tenure which the Court changed to five years, and a minimum age of 50 years for judicial members which the Court revised to allow lawyers with experience of 10 years. 
  • It remains to be seen whether the Act is challenged in court, and how the Court reacts.

Other important bills

  • The Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation insures all bank deposits against default (currently up to ₹5 lakh).
  • The Act was amended to require an interim pay-out within 90 days if a bank was going through a liquidation or reconstruction.
  • The General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Act was amended to enable the Government to bring its shareholding in general insurance companies below 51%.
  • The supplementary demand for grants for ₹23,675 crore was passed by the Lok Sabha without any discussion.

Course correction needed

  • Parliament appears to be quite ineffective in all its functions. 
  • The reason for having a legislature separate from the executive is to have a check on executive power.
  • This session, the Government got every Bill that it introduced passed as an Act, without any debate, without any scrutiny by committees, and with   Question Hour hardly worked.
  • There was just one debate in the Rajya Sabha and none in the Lok Sabha on policy issues.
  • A large supplementary Budget was passed in less than 10 minutes without even one member speaking on it.


  • There was no discussion in Lok Sabha on any policy issue and Rajya Sabha had just one such discussion on the management of COVID-19 which lasted nearly five hours.
  • Parliament will have its 70th anniversary next year and it also plans to move to a larger building soon with many speeches celebrating these occasions.
  • But they will be just empty words in a brand new building unless parliamentarians get their act together.

Source: The Hindu

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