MPs take Fridays casually, choose political engagements over legislation
Actual attendance figures for the second half of the day could be far lower because many MPs do not sit through the entire day’s business
Lawmakers across party lines and from both Houses of Parliament treat Fridays casually – an analysis of attendance data since 2009 shows – with many of them choosing political engagements in their constituencies to legislation in New Delhi.
On July 25, Prime Minister Narendra Modi admonished MPs from his party at a BJP meeting for putting legislation at risk by not being present in the House at the time bills were taken up for discussion.
This year in the Rajya Sabha has seen the lowest attendance (62%) on Fridays since the UPA II came to power in 2009. The average for other days this year has been over 70% which is lower than the 2009-17 average of around 75%
Since 2009, attendance in the Lok Sabha has been under 66% on Fridays compared to an average of around 72% on other days of the week. Admitting a problem at hand, the government says going forward there will be more legislative business on Fridays to improve things. In the just concluded Monsoon session, it was able to get three important bills (the IIMs bill, the RTE amendment bill and the IIPE bill) passed on Fridays in the Lok Sabha where the NDA has a brute majority.
Experts say that the actual attendance figures for the second half of the day could be far lower because MPs are expected to sign in the attendance register just once a day and many do not sit through the entire day’s business.
Data from PRS legislative research – a think tank that closely watches Parliament -- shows that business in the Rajya Sabha collapsed thrice this year due to lack of quorum on a Friday forcing adjournment for the day.
On July 21, proceedings had to be stopped because when the Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims) 2016 bill which had been passed by the Lok Sabha in March was being discussed for passage in the RS, Congress MP Jairam Ramesh pointed to the lack of quorum. There were only 22 MPs in the 250 member house. Though minister of state for parliamentary affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi rushed out to fetch members, he could only find one MP and the House was adjourned for the day.
A number of MPs HT spoke to admitted, on the condition of anonymity, that they leave for their constituencies by Friday afternoon to participate in political engagements.
“Most members are interested in the Question Hour or Zero Hour when they can raise the issues of their constituencies. They have engagements lined up in the constituencies. Each parliamentary constituency has lakhs of people and as their representatives, the pressure on MPs to be with the people they represent is enormous,” said Dr DV Gandhi, MP from Patiala.
“Attendance on Fridays is low even in the US. It is only a few of us who are interested in private members’ bills are present in the House,” BJD MP Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda told HT.
Fridays afternoons are set aside for private members’ bills which is an opportunity for MPs to steer legislation as individuals, experts say.
“There is complete lack of awareness among MPs on the issue. They skip private members’ business because of this lack of awareness. Private members bills can influence government legislation,” said TK Vishvanathan, former general secretary of the Lok Sabha.
Only 14 such bills have been passed since Independence and 13 of them were before 1970. On bills which are withdrawn by members, a minister assures the House that the government will study the concerns it raises. “Friday is the only day an MP gets to act as an independent legislator,” said Chakshu Roy of PRS. “The institution of legislature has to create incentives for members to participate, the way they do in question hour.”
“In the Rajya Sabha, Friday mornings are useful. Zero Hour and Question Hour run well. The problem is the post-lunch session. The whole concept of Private Members’ Bills needs to be debated in the public domain,” said Derek O’Brien Trinamool Parliamentary party leader in RS. “That can be a starting point to initiate reforms in Parliamentary procedure. Till that happens, I am afraid Friday attendance will continue to remain low.” His party has had the lowest attendance in both Houses, PRS data shows. During the current Lok Sabha, TMC MPs had 65% attendance in the LS and 70% in the RS.
While admitting Friday absenteeism, is a mounting problem, Naqvi said his party is trying to ensure maximum attendance of its MPs after Modi’s rebuke for poor attendance. The minister ruled out changing the way attendance is marked or moving private member’s business to another day of the week. “You have to trust the members. Each one represents about 20 lakh people,” he said.
“Private members bills are scheduled to be taken up till 5 pm on Fridays, we can have government’s legislative business after that,” Naqvi said.