From storming well to speaking out of turn, new index may map House disruptions
According to people familiar with the matter, there was also overwhelming support for a House code of conduct for lawmakers in the first gathering of the presiding officers of India’s legislative bodies after the formation of the 17th Lok Sabha.Updated: Dec 19, 2019 01:03 IST
Blacking out speeches by lawmakers who frequently stall House proceedings, to creating a Disruption Index that maps how many times they stormed the Well or spoke out of turn were among the radical ideas to enforce better discipline in legislative bodies discussed on Wednesday in a meeting called by Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla.
According to people familiar with the matter, there was also overwhelming support for a House code of conduct for lawmakers in the first gathering of the presiding officers of India’s legislative bodies after the formation of the 17th Lok Sabha.
Birla, who emphasised the need for uniformity in House rules, also made it clear that “legislatures should not be reduced to arenas of political slugfest; they are temples of democracy to raise issues related to people”, according to a person present in the meeting who asked not to be named.
During a discussion on “Zero Hour”-- the time set aside for raising issues of larger importance -- Rajya Sabha deputy chairman Harivansh Narayan Singh suggested that, much like the record of the attendance, participation and achievements of individual lawmakers that the Houses maintain, they should also maintain a Disruption Index to track whether or not the members have allowed the House to run smoothly.
He also suggested that the live telecast may be cut off for some time if a member frequently indulges in disruption in the House. Protests and stalling of proceedings have been areas of concern in Parliament as well as some state assemblies.
While all presiding officers supported a code of conduct for lawmakers, Rajasthan assembly speaker CP Joshi suggested that performance of a legislative body should not be counted only on the basis of the number of bills passed. “If a party has brute majority in the House, obviously it can pass bills easily,” Joshi said, hinting at the business done by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the Lok Sabha. Both the monsoon and the winter sessions of Parliament this year have been very productive.
“The larger issue is how many hours were spent discussing legislation. Are we able to move from a parliamentary democracy to a participative democracy? These are the issues to be taken into account while judging performance,” Joshi added.
After several presiding officers spoke about disruptions, Punjab assembly speaker Ajaib Singh Bhatti emphasised that “differences and dissent” formed the “basic spirit of democracy”. He asked for a framework to reduce wastage of time in Zero Hour and a code of conduct for lawmakers. Some leaders suggested that the bureaucracy should be made accountable if suggestions from legislative bodies were not adhered to. The presiding officer from Karnataka, Vishweshwar Hegde, demanded that at least 60% attendance should be mandatory, while some others spoke about bringing “well-researched” bills and taking all parties on board about the proposed legislation.
Birla said that many of the suggestions would be taken forward. He also suggested uniform rules for all assemblies and Parliament, pointing out that the Gujarat assembly, for instance, doesn’t have a “Zero Hour”.
Inaugurating the two-day conference, Birla also said that he believes giving chance to all parties to participate and take them along. “We have to uphold the dignity of the legislative house and ensure that rules are followed,” he added.
Former parliamentary affairs secretary Afzal Amanullah, however, feels there is no need for any additional mechanism to control disruptions. “First of all, what is disruption in someone’s eyes might be a legitimate way for another person to raise his voice. There are already enough powers in the hand of a presiding officer to tackle disruptions.”