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Make the House work

The goverment and the Opposition must unite to make Parliament more relevant. Bhalchandra Mungekar writes.

india Updated: Nov 15, 2012 23:50 IST
Bhalchandra Mungekar

In a parliamentary democracy, there should be a constant process of enhancing the relevance and effectiveness of Parliament.

Ideally, we should have an annual calendar for Parliament specifying the dates and schedules of the three sessions, and all other businesses of the government should be adjusted accordingly. Since the tenures of the assemblies are known in advance, their election schedules should not be allowed to hamper the House schedules. If political exigencies thwart this, the next option should be to mandate that Parliament must function for at least 100 days a year, as the 2001 Conference of Chief Ministers, Parliamentary Affairs Ministers and Speakers had suggested. This needs to be done urgently because during the 1950s, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha functioned for 127 and 93 days, respectively. In 2011, both functioned for 73 days.

The First Lok Sabha passed 110 Bills; while the 15th only 40. During the 15th Lok Sabha, 264 Private Members’ Bills have been introduced and in the Rajya Sabha, 160. Of these, Lok Sabha discussed 14 Bills. The country cannot afford such under-performance.

Second, the quality of the sessions is equally, if not more, important. In a parliamentary democracy, it is expected that the Opposition challenges the government ruthlessly on issues and scrutinises its performance. The Opposition must also offer constructive suggestions on policies. On the other hand, the government ought to listen to the suggestions and even programmes of the Opposition with an open mind, when convinced of their relevance.

Unfortunately, this is not happening. Of late, the Opposition, mainly the BJP, has made the right to disagree degenerate into the right to disruption. What is agonising is that even the Question Hour, a potent instrument, is not exempted from being aborted.

The 2011 winter session was wasted thanks to the Opposition’s demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee over the 2G auction. What is disgraceful is that the Opposition took pride in not allowing Parliament to function. The heavens would not have fallen had the government conceded to the Opposition’s demand on time knowing fully well how the BJP-led Opposition rejected the JPC’s Bofors report saying that the JPC was packed by Congressmen.

I will not be surprised if the BJP for want of a new socio-economic agenda and internal dissensions repeats its disruptive strategy in the winter session, which begins on November 22. The party had wasted 13 days of the monsoon session by demanding the resignation of the PM on the so-called ‘coal scam’ without grasping its constitutional implications.

Parliament represents the sovereign and collective will of the people. It is thus expected that its rich and enlightened debates would be directed towards consensus; lest the majority view prevails. India’s foreign policy is one such crowning illustration of national consensus, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that Jawaharlal Nehru was its architect.
The people expect a broad consensus on crucial policy issues, the most crucial being how to make India’s economic growth inclusive. There are also other issues of importance that need to be discussed: the goods and service tax, acquisition of land for development projects, exploitation of natural resources in a transparent and sustainable manner, implementation of the right to education, unabated atrocities against the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, frequent and shameful incidents of honour killing.

A fractured polity, which we have been witnessing for the last two-and-a-half decades, is a result of a fractured and fragmented society. The time has now come for the ruling alliance and the Opposition to engage in meaningful debates on issues and make Parliament more relevant to meet the aspirations of the people.

Bhalchandra Mungekar is a Member of the Rajya Sabha and former Member of the Planning Commission
The views expressed by the author are personal