GS PAPER II
Parliament is abdicating its oversight role
Why in News
- The monsoon session of Parliament which ended was a disappointment in several ways.
- This was the fourth straight session that ended ahead of the original schedule other than the cancelled winter 2020 session.
- This meant that many important issues had not been discussed such as the COVID19 response and strategy, the Chinese incursion into Ladakh, the economic situation, rising prices of many essential items, and farmers’ problems, to name a few.
- And of course, the news of snooping using the Pegasus system broke out just ahead of the session.
Shrinking work time
- Both Houses were frequently disrupted as the Government and Opposition parties could not agree on the topics to be debated.
- The Lok Sabha worked for just 19% of its originally scheduled time, and the Rajya Sabha for 26%.
- The Government pushed through 20 Bills, mostly without any discussion. Of the 18 Bills passed by the Lok Sabha, only one saw discussion over 15 minutes.
- While the Rajya Sabha crossed this low bar for most Bills, only two Bills were discussed for over an hour.
- In 15 of these Bills, not even one member of the Lok Sabha spoke; each Bill was passed after a short statement by the respective Minister.
- The Lok Sabha proceedings show one Bill, the Scheduled Tribes (Order) Amendment, as being discussed for 10 minutes within which seven members spoke, two Ministers intervened and the Minister replied.
- Every Bill introduced during the session was passed within the session. This means that there was no time for any scrutiny by members.
- While we have seen such behavior in State Assemblies (in 2020, 91% of all Bills in 19 Assemblies were passed within five days of introduction), this is a new development for Parliament.
- In the period of the Fifteenth Lok Sabha (2009-14), 18% of the Bills were passed within the same session. This rose to 33% in the Sixteenth Lok Sabha and is at 70% halfway through the current Parliament.
- None of the Bills was referred to a parliamentary committee for examination.
- These committees provide a forum for parliamentarians to engage with experts, stakeholders and government officials to understand the implications of Bills.
- They deliberate on the consequences of various provisions, and recommend amendments. In recent years, we have seen significant changes made in Bills such as the ‘Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code and Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill’ as a result of the recommendations made by parliamentary committees.
- There has been a sharp downward trend in Bills being referred to them, from 71% in the Fifteenth Lok Sabha to 27% in the Sixteenth, and 12% in the current one till date.
- There was an amendment moved in the Rajya Sabha to refer the Tribunals Reform Bill to a select committee of that House, and the motion was rejected by 79 votes to 44.
- Given that there are currently 232 members, this indicates that nearly half the members were absent during the vote.
- Thus, we see that Bills are being passed without any serious examination by parliamentarians.
- They are most often not being referred to committees, there is hardly any discussion on the floor of the House and in most instances, and Bills are passed within a few days of introduction.
- There were some important Bills passed this session. The Constitution was amended to allow States to identify backward classes (i.e.,Other Backward Classes) for the purpose of providing reservations.
- A recent Constitution Amendment has converted the National Commission for Backward Classes from a statutory body set up by an Act of Parliament to a constitutional body.
- That amendment also specified that the President of India shall specify the list of OBCs.
- Recently, the Supreme Court of India had interpreted this provision to imply that the State government cannot issue the list of backward classes.
- The Amendment passed this session clarified that States have the power to do so.
- In 2012, the Income Tax Act was amended with retrospective effect from 1961 to cover certain transactions.
- A Bill passed this session reversed this provision of retrospective taxation. Famously, Vodafone was required to pay a large sum under the now repealed provision.
- The Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation insure all bank deposits against default (currently up to ₹5 lakh).
- The Act was amended to require an interim payout within 90 days if a bank was going through a liquidation or reconstruction.
- The General Insurance Business (Nationalization) Act was amended to enable the Government to bring its shareholding in general insurance companies below 51%.
- The Tribunals Reforms Bill was passed. The Bill replaced an ordinance which specified the process of appointment of members and their tenure and service conditions.
- It retained two provisions struck down last month by the Supreme Court: the four-year tenure which the Court changed to five years, and a minimum age of 50 years for judicial members which the Court revised to allow lawyers with experience of 10 years.
- The Rajya Sabha had just one such discussion on the management of COVID19 which lasted nearly five hours.
- The supplementary demand for grants for ₹23,675 crore was passed by the Lok Sabha without any discussion.
Course correction needed
- To sum up, Parliament appears to be quite ineffective in all its functions.
- The reason for having a legislature separate from the executive is to have a check on executive power. This session, the Government got every Bill that it introduced passed as an Act, without any debate, and without any scrutiny by committees. Question Hour hardly worked.
- There was just one debate in the Rajya Sabha and none in the Lok Sabha on policy issues. A large supplementary Budget was passed in less than 10 minutes without even one member speaking on it.
- Parliament will have its 70th anniversary next year. Parliament also plans to move to a larger building.
- We will see many speeches celebrating these occasions. They will be just empty words in a brand new building unless parliamentarians get their act together