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Saturday, Nov 23, 2019

A performing Parliament, a healthy sign of democracy | Analysis

Is Indian Parliament all about key legislations and fiery debates? The short answer is—no.

india Updated: Aug 07, 2019 20:44 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The law-making powers of the highest legislative body are supreme and an essential part of the functioning of any Parliament.
The law-making powers of the highest legislative body are supreme and an essential part of the functioning of any Parliament.(PTI Photo)
         

That Parliament is the only body to make national legislations and thereby the government must have its way—while the Opposition can say as much as it wants—is an old narrative of the policy-makers. The law-making powers of the highest legislative body are supreme and an essential part of the functioning of any Parliament. No wonder that when a Parliament session comes to an end, we always try to evaluate its performance through number-crunching: how many more bills have been passed, how long the session sat to discuss pressing issues and how the session has fared in comparison to the earlier ones.

It’s a justified assessment. Because it reflects how far the country has progressed in terms of its legislative agenda, the new priorities of the party in power and how the functioning of Parliament has improved (or deteriorated) even as India continues to celebrate its parliamentary democracy, especially when thousands of crores of rupees are spent to hold a national election.

But is Indian Parliament all about key legislations and fiery debates? The short answer is—no.

Bills and debates are just the process and parts of procedures of any functioning Parliament. It’s the people who sit in the soul of any parliamentary practice, especially in India where Parliament plays a major role in social welfare measures and security and economic growth. The people’s aspirations, growth and their representation through elected representatives in the two Houses essentially underline that a healthy Parliament session would essentially mean the platform is effective enough to discuss the people’s issues.

So, for me, the best textbook to study contemporary India and its issues and problems is attending a session of Parliament. It is the only place where a visitor can listen to the myriad voices—from Nagaland to Nagpur and Srinagar to Sriperumbudur—of India in a span of few hours. Sit through the Zero Hour or the Question Hour—the time allotted for raising any issue and asking questions to the ministers—and one can know the ground-level problems faced by far-flung places or the vast rural belts of India and their issues.

Take the case of India’s rail budgets. As the railways (or the absence of it) has a major impact in daily lives, rail budgets have always witnessed marathon debates. Every MP, who wants to remain connected to the constituency, makes an extra effort to speak on the rail budget, often talking about the need for more trains or doubling of tracks in his or her parliamentary area. Once, the rail budget started at 11 am and spilled over till 7 am in the next day. This year too, in the budget session, the discussion of rail budget ran till 11.59 pm.

When a Parliament session runs smoothly, MPs get a chance to talk about the people’s issues. In my 17 years of reporting on Parliament, I have often seen many MPs getting restless when their party decides to disrupt Parliament for a long period. And when the House runs, it’s ultimately the people, whose issues are brought up in the floor of the House. It is important to pass bills and debate on national issues. But it is equally important to talk about the problems affecting different corners of India. And Parliament, is the only place to talk about those issues as well.