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Parliament spending less time debating laws than ever. Here’s proof

india Updated: Aug 29, 2016 08:36 IST
Jatin Gandhi
Jatin Gandhi
Hindustan Times
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File photo of the Parliament building in New Delhi.

If you thought lawmakers seriously debate bills before turning them into laws, here’s a statistic that will make you gawk. At a time when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is crossing the half-way mark of its tenure, both the houses of Parliament have already passed 17 bills after debating them for less than five minutes each.

On July 28, Lok Sabha MPs amended the anti-graft Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act to exempt public servants – including themselves – from declaring their assets by July 31. The amendment was passed without a discussion. On March 16, the Rajya Sabha passed an amendment to the Gurudwara Act-1925 to disenfranchise an estimated 70 lakh Sehajdari Sikhs without sparing a minute for contemplation.

Earlier, on December 21, the RS passed the crucial SCs and STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill in the same manner. The amendments were brought in to upgrade a law dating back to 1989, making punishment under the Act far more stringent. Despite this, the House of Elders rushed through the process because it was meeting after four adjournments forced by disruptions and the backlog was mounting. Two appropriation bills also received the same treatment in that very sitting.

These are just a few examples.

Experts say hasty (and shoddy) legislating often yields laws that need amendments within a few years of enactment, or – at times – fail the test of judicial scrutiny. The IT Amendment Act was passed by the Lok Sabha in 2008 after a debate of just 40 minutes. In March 2015, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A, which was inserted by the amendment, because it was found “vague” and “unconstitutional”.

Experts also cite the example of the Companies Act 2013, an omnibus law to consolidate and amend provisions relating to companies, to drive home their point about hasty legislation. The law was amended less than two years after its enactment.

“The legislature’s job is not just to legislate, but to legislate well,” says Chakshu Roy, head of outreach at the PRS Legislative Research – a think-tank that analyses parliamentary procedures. “The legislative process is sacrosanct, and it must ensure that a mechanism of complete scrutiny is adopted. Every time there is a deviation, the legislation is weakened.”

Yet, the time spent by parliamentarians on discussing legislation is only getting shorter.

The Lok Sabha has passed 72 bills since May 2014, of which exactly a third have benefitted from less than an hour of discussion. The same was the case with 22 of the 63 legislations passed by the Upper House in the same period.

Data provided by the PRS shows that during the UPA regime, Parliament passed 27 bills under five minutes and 21 others under 30 minutes. While just 16 of 135 bills were discussed for over three hours under NDA-II, the figure stood at 47 of 244 bills during UPA II (from mid-2009 to 2014). A better record, but not good enough.

Less time was lost to disruptions during the 16th Lok Sabha, when compared to the 15th, though it didn’t result in more discussion on bills.

The government says disruptions leave less time for Parliament to take up its legislative agenda, resulting in clipped discussions. “We are trying to coordinate with the Opposition (to fix this). The Prime Minister is very keen on debate and discussion,” says Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, MoS, parliamentary affairs.