Indian Parliament

Mains Marks Booster     29th July 2023        
Samadhaan

Introduction:

  • Parliamentary System of Government: Which combines the legislative and executive branches of the state. It is important to consider this aspect when discussing the functions of Parliament. 
  • Parliament provides the Council of Ministers to oversee the state's administration and holds them accountable (Article 75). The Council of Ministers is composed of members from both chambers of Parliament.

Powers/Functions of Parliament:

  • Legislative Functions: The authority to create laws regarding subjects in the Union List lies solely with Parliament.
  • Financial Functions: Parliament acts as the custodian of public funds. The government cannot levy taxes or spend money without Parliament's approval. The annual budget receives approval from Parliament.
  • Electoral Functions: Parliament participates in the election of the President of India and elects the Vice-President. The Lok Sabha elects its Speaker and Deputy Speaker, while the Rajya Sabha elects its Deputy Chairman.
  • Power of Removal: Parliament holds the authority to initiate the removal of certain high functionaries from office. The President, Judges of the Supreme Court, and High Courts can be removed through impeachment by Parliament for violating the Constitution.
  • Amendment of the Constitution: The Parliament can amend most parts of the Constitution through a special majority. Certain provisions require the approval of States in addition to Parliament for amendment. The basic structure of the Constitution cannot be altered by Parliament.
  • Power over Executive: Parliament exercises control over the Executive through various mechanisms such as question-hour, zero hour, calling attention notice, and adjournment motion. These motions are taken seriously by the government as they involve severe criticism of government policies and their potential impact on the electorate, whom the government ultimately faces.

Issues faced by Indian Legislature

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  1. Trend of Shorter Parliamentary Sessions
  • The 16th Lok Sabha functioned for a total number of 1,615 hours, 20% more than the 15th Lok Sabha. However, this is 40% less than the average of all full-term Lok Sabha (2,689 hours).
  1. Weakened Scrutiny by the Legislature
  • The Government of NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was passed by both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha within a 10-day process. Similarly, the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2021 was passed by both Houses within a week. 
  • The National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development (NaBFID) Bill, 2021 was passed just three days after its introduction. 
  • This swift passage of bills suggests a lack of regard for parliamentary scrutiny rather than an emphasis on efficiency.
  1. Gradual Marginalization of Parliamentary Committees
  • Data from PRS Legislative Research shows a decline in the percentage of billsreferred to Departmentally Related Standing Committees (DRSCs)
  • Apart from DRSCs, there are minimal bills referred to Select Committees of the Houses or Joint Parliamentary Committees.
  1. Declining Quality of Parliamentary Debates
  • Parliamentary discussions, which used to focus on national and important issues, are now centred around local issues and settling political scores.
  • Recent examples include discussions about comedians and actors, as well as debates over tweets, rather than productive debates related to national interest.
  1. Low Representation of Women
  • Although women's representation in the Lok Sabha has increased from 5%in the first-ever election to 14% in the 17th Lok Sabha, it still remains unequal compared to democracies like the U.S., which has 32% representation.

Implications of the Poor Functioning of the Legislature

  • Declining trust in the democratic process: It leads to lower voters’ turnout.
  • Impact on Opposition's Accountability: Opposition's capacity to hold the government accountable for its actions will be harmed.
  • Role of Extensive Debates: Extensive debates avoid hasty legislation by assisting politicians in understanding the core issue underlying the proposals and assisting them in rectifying them in Parliament. 
  • Less productivity: Disruptions and a low number of sittings contribute to a decrease in productivity.
  • Legislative Vacuum: Delay in policymaking creates a legislative gap, which is then filled by other bodies, directly challenging the doctrine of Separation of Powers.
  • Increase in Burden of Judiciary: Poor functioning of the parliament leads to rushed legislation and unnecessary litigation, causing inconvenience to citizens, courts, and other stakeholders. The Chief Justice of India has expressed concerns about gaps in law-making that have resulted in increased litigation.

Suggested Parliamentary Reforms

  1. Enhancing Parliamentary Efficiency and Accountability: Fix a minimum number of settings, Strengthen Departmental Committees
  1. Promoting Transparency and Access to Information: Keep Members of Parliament up to date with the latest information on parliamentary matters to enable informed decision-making.
  1. Ensuring Professionalism and Training: Establish a strict code of conduct for Members serving on important parliamentary committees, ensuring professionalism and ethical behavior in their roles.
  1. Enhancing Legislative Assessment and Planning: Incorporate a comprehensive assessment of social, economic, environmental, and administrative impacts in every legislative proposal, raising awareness and facilitating informed decision-making.
  • Strengthening Opposition and Alternative Leadership: Establish the institution of a Shadow Cabinet in India, similar to the British system, to enhance the role of the opposition.

Way Forward:

  • Strengthen democratic processes: Enhance transparency, accountability, and ethical conduct????Implement code of conduct strictly. 
  • Improve legislative functioning: Streamline the legislative process????Empower parliamentary committees for scrutiny and policy input. 
  • Embrace technology: Digitize processes for efficiency and transparency????Implement e-Parliament and digital archives. 
  • Strengthen institutions: Empower Speaker's office and research services????Ensure independent functioning.
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