Parliamentary Reform

  • Parliament is supposed to be a union of exemplary orators, with a grass-roots touch.
  • Parliamentary debates, which once focussed on national and critical issues, are now more about local problems, viewed from a parochial angle.

Problems in our Parliament (Fodder Points for Mains):

  • Each minute of running Parliament in sessions is utilised poorly.
  • Between the 1950s and the 1960s, the Lok Sabha used to meet for an average of 120 days in a year. In comparison, in the last decade, it has met for an average of 70 days a year. 
  • In comparison, the British House of Commons has met for an average of 150 days a year over the last 15 years, while the U.S. House of Representatives has met for 140 days in the same period. Most Parliaments are in session throughout the year.
  • The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have not seen women MPs cross the 12% mark.
  • In 2012, India ranked 20th from the bottom in terms of representation of women in Parliament.
  • Even the individual voting record of MPs remains unknown.

Way Ahead:

  • While our Parliament lacks the power to convene itself, it should have a minimum mandated number of days to meet — with the National Commission to review the working of the Constitution recommending 120 and 100 days for the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, respectively. For example Odisha has already shown the way, mandating a minimum of 60 days for the State Assembly to sit. Without Parliament meeting often, it will be derelict in its duty to hold the executive to account.
  • While the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments enabled the reservation of 33% of seats in local government, political representation by women candidates continues to be subdued,  this needs to be changed dramatically, beginning with the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill (108th amendment) reserving 33% of all seats in Parliament and State legislatures for women.
  • We need a systematic approach to legislative engineering and prioritisation — the parliamentary committee, an unfashionable institution, long out of vogue, can assume institutional importance in this process.
  • As highlighted by the Law Ministry, we require a constitution committee. Instead of constitutional amendments being presented to Parliament like ordinary pieces of legislation in the form of Bills, often at short notice, it would be desirable to have the committee conduct an appropriate priori scrutiny before the actual drafting of the proposal for constitutional reform.
  • The Anti-Defection Act needs to be recast, and used only in the most exceptional circumstances, while allowing MPs free rein on their self-expression. The U.K., for example, has the concept of a free vote allowing MPs to vote as they wish on particular legislative items.
  • Investing in Parliament’s intellectual capital is necessary and additional budgetary support should be provided to LARRDIS while assisting MPs in employing research staff.
  • We also need an institutionalised process to raise the quality and rigour associated with the budget scrutiny process. India needs a parliamentary budget office, akin to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, which can be an independent and impartial institution devoted to conducting a technical and objective analysis of any Bill with spending or revenue raising requirements. Other countries have led the way with such entities established in Kenya, South Africa, Morocco, the Philippines, Ghana and Thailand.
  • Parliament should be a space for policy and not for politics.


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