By Kalyani Shankar
Former President Pranab Mukherjee, as leader of the House, vexed with the unruly behaviour of the Opposition (then it was BJP), observed that only three ‘Ds’– Discussion, Debate and Dissent – have a place in Parliament and not the ‘fourth ‘D’ -Disruptions. Unfortunately, both the houses today are only indulging in the “disruptions. As it is, the Covid had curtailed the sessions last and this year, and these disruptions have further impacted Parliament’s functioning.
Since 1952, M.P.s had followed broadly rules and regulations laid down for the members. However, due to various reasons, indiscipline, noisy scenes, rushing to the well of the House and shouting slogans have become the norms of the day now. Whichever party is in Opposition (now the Congress and the TMC) seem to believe that disruption and not debate is perhaps the best way to focus on the issues they consider important.
Historically, there was a degree of homogeneity in the House in the fifties, and there were many eminent Parliamentarians then. But gradually, other parties also began to grow while the Congress shrank, leading to coalition politics in the eighties. Records show that a member at one point in time even ended his speech by commenting, ‘we have the arguments. You have votes.”
Democracy demands that Parliament scrutinize the government’s decisions, but settling political scores on the floor of the House makes lawmakers fail in their duty to discuss and debate bills. Parliament gets adjourned many times in a day. The opposition parties want to paralyze the Parliament and reduce the ruling party’s ability to pass crucial bills. The government, too, wants to get the bills passed amidst din and noise.
Over the years, there has been a decline in the sitting of Parliament. Some think that Parliament should sit for more days. Both Houses sit for an average of 67 days annually. Compare this to the first, second, and third Lok Sabha (1952- 1967), when they met for an average of 120 days annually. Parliament could work for only 34 days since the pandemic hit the country in March last year.
Take the case of Rajya Sabha. The work of the House of Elders has been adversely affected since the session began on November 29, with the Opposition working up over the suspension of 12 of its members. The Chairman of Rajya Sabha, M. Venkaiah Naidu, suspended 12 opposition members for the entire session following their unruly behaviour. For the present, the standoff continues with the Opposition staging a protest near the Mahatma Gandhi statue in Parliament House demanding revoking the suspension.
Indeed the House can punish the erring M.P.s. It could be a warning, reprimand, withdrawal from the House, suspension from the service of the House, imprisonment and expulsion from the House. Rules also prescribe the punishment for violating them, which is left to the Chair’s discretion.
A galaxy of political leaders, including the then Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sonia Gandhi and others attended a one day conference in 2001 to discuss discipline and decorum of M.P.s. They all agreed on improving the functioning of Parliament.
Sadly, the M.P.s have failed in their duties. It costs the exchequer Rs 2.5 lakh per minute to conduct a parliament session, resulting in a loss of Rs 1.5 crore for every wasted hour. The taxpayer’s money is going up in smoke.
There are many suggestions to improve the functioning of Parliament:
- The leaders of various political parties should take the lead in this regard.
- The members should be cautioned against irresponsible behaviour in the House.
- The Parliament could form a new code of conduct for the members with the help of all political parties.
- The government should dialogue with the Opposition to avoid any misunderstanding of the government’s policies.
Both sides should show flexibility and accommodate each other. Presently neither the government, not the Opposition is interested in this option. It is for the government to run the business of the House.
One can also think of the British pattern where the Parliament meets over 100 days in a year. The opposition parties get 20 days to decide the agenda for discussion in Parliament. The decisions of the House passed on opposition days are not binding on the government. But they are an opportunity for the opposing parties to raise the issues.
Ultimately it is the politics that is the villain of the situation. There is a need for both the treasury benches and the Opposition to make sure that the three Ds – Discussion, Debate and Dissent – should be their goal. (IPA Service)