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Parliamentary Disruptions: Weakening of Deliberative Democracy

Parliament is rightly hailed as the temple of democracy. It is the highest forum where the voice of the people is raised and discussed through their representatives.

Deliberation is the backbone of a healthy democracy. Unfortunately, the Indian Parliament is witnessing several occasions where its functioning and dignity have been compromised because of disruptions and unruly behaviour of its members.

For instance, this year’s monsoon session was marred by chaos. The session was adjourned sine die, four days before the scheduled date. It was a near washout. Heavy disruptions, including the raising of slogans, displaying placards in the well of the house, etc., led to the suspension of 23 members in the Rajya Sabha. A mere 7 and 4 bills were passed in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, respectively.

It is not a completely new phenomenon in the Indian politics. According to the PRS data, the 14th, 15th, and 16th Lok Sabha (2014-19) lost 13%, 37%, and 16% of its scheduled time, respectively, to disruptions. The data for Rajya Sabha is 14%, 32%, and 36%, respectively.  

Disruptions are a symptom of populist and narrow-sighted politics. Instead of debating an issue, parties resort to uproars to make headlines. This happens even when the government is ready to debate and the agenda has been set by the Business Advisory Committee unanimously.

“Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos.”

                                                                   —George W. Bush

Disruptions can be justified only in cases where the government is not ready to discuss an issue of immediate public importance. In the rest of the cases, uproar in Parliament is a well-planned strategy by parties, which is an unfortunate practise.

Chaos in Parliament that forces the presiding officer to adjourn the meeting again and again not only hampers its productivity but also impacts the quality of bills passed. The wastage of taxpayers’ money is another undesirable consequence.

Quality of Discussion

Session after session, disruptions are becoming the new normal. The practise of healthy deliberation, discussion, and disagreement is being replaced by disruptions. Earlier, question hours and zero hours were often immune to disturbances due to a general consensus among members. This practice, too, is under threat.

Tools like these help the opposition to keep the government in check. It also forces the government to be more inclusive in its functioning as the opposition keeps it on its toes.

Quality of Bills

Democratic governments run through legislations. Any policy-making decision has to be passed by Parliament to enable the executive to act.

Thus, the government has to get the bills passed to carry on its functions.

Thus, the clash between the government’s interests and the opposition’s belligerence, leads to the following two scenarios, both of which adversely impact the common people.

  • Hasty passage of bills
  • Important bills get stuck

Critics of democracy often accuse it of slow economic development. Democracies are structured in such a way that any law has to go through several stages of scrutiny before being enacted.

A law has to be passed by both the houses after three readings each in both houses. It may also be sent to a parliamentary committee for better scrutiny. Thus, the process is indeed lengthy but essential. “Democracy is a slow process of stumbling to the right decision instead of going straight forward to the wrong one.”

So, when MPs are unwilling to discuss a bill, governments resort to hasty passage of bills without any discussions. In the 14th Lok Sabha, 33 bills were approved, with each one taking less than 5 minutes.

This haste leads to the passage of faulty bills, which are full of loopholes. The Supreme Court of India has observed that the quality of bills improves when discussion takes place. And, like in the case of farm laws, governments either have to withdraw them or amend them, extending the already lengthy process.

On the flip side, the passage of many bills is delayed due to diminished working hours. For example, the Lok Sabha worked only for 44 hours and 39 minutes in this monsoon session. Meanwhile, the Rajya Sabha only worked for 35 hours, as 47 hours were wasted due to uproar and adjournments.

As a result, even bills that are critical to the welfare of society as a whole get stuck. Also, with rapidly changing technology, certain bills may become obsolete if dragged for long. This eventually hampers the development process of the country.

In any scenario, it is the people of India who are at the receiving end.

The dignity of Parliament

At present, the proceedings of Parliament are telecast live across the country. Thus, even the last person carefully observes the demeanour of the representatives of the people. Continuous ruckus, unruly behaviour of the MPs and ineffective working of the Parliament not only diminishes the dignity of the Parliament but also lessens people’s trust in it.

The Rajya Sabha, which is called the house of the elderly, should be an example of dignified functioning. On the contrary, it is more prone to disruptions due to a belligerent opposition at present.

Wastage of taxpayers’ money

According to various estimates, a single minute of Parliament of India operation costs the exchequer approximately 2.5 lakhs. Every parliamentary proceeding is conducted by the cooperation of several ministries. A large number of staff, security personnel, etc., are employed.

Thus, the wastage of every minute in the Parliament costs the public pocket. But the precious time, instead of being used for raising public issues, is wasted for political motives.

What is the solution?

The solution to this undesirable trend has to come from within the Parliament. Parliament is the sole repository of its own immunities and privileges. Thus, it should devise a solution itself. If it doesn’t deal with the situation, it allows the Supreme Court to interfere in the functioning of Parliament, which ends up in judicial overreach. It is not good because Parliament works on the will of the people, which should not be subservient to any other institution.

Although there is no dearth of rules and procedures to deal with unruly MPs, they are scarcely implemented. According to Desh Ratan Nigam, a constitutional expert, the solution has to be devised on two levels: –

  • At party level, the leader of the party that creates uproar should be suspended.
  • At an individual level, repeat offender should be identified, and strict action should be taken against them. It may include a proportionate monetary penalty, termination, or barring them from contesting elections.

However, the solution lies in dialogue. The ruling party and the opposition are bound to have differing opinions. In the parliamentary system, both are joint stakeholders. An efficient Parliament benefits both the government and the opposition.

Conclusion

The mantra of any democracy should be, ‘Discuss, debate, disagree, but don’t disrupt.’ This mantra is more relevant for the world’s largest democracy. A consensus between parties and public pressure is imperative to restore the democratic ethos within Parliament.

Posted in Indian Politics Current Affairs

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