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Indian Polity

The Big Picture - Strengthening Parliamentary Institutions

  • 08 Nov 2019
  • 8 min read

Recently, Indian Vice President pushed for the Women’s Reservation Bill, parliamentary reforms, a code of conduct for lawmakers and greater powers to the presiding officer to deal with disruptive legislators.

  • The Vice President, who delivered the first Arun Jaitley memorial lecture at Delhi University, also pitched for a minimum sitting for both Houses in a year and a longer tenure to parliament’s standing committees.

Strengthening Parliamentary Institutions

Ensuring Member Strength

  • The Members of Parliament should be present and attend the sessions.
    • The issue of lack of Quorum ( 10% of the strength of the Parliament) should also be addressed. The presence of the members and the time of parliament’s settings need to be increased to at least 120-130 days a year.
  • Parliament should be allowed to function without any disturbances and everyone should do the assigned functions and duties.

Qualitative Debates and Discussions

  • The debates and discussions should be value-adding and qualitative. Parliamentary initiatives for value addition in the members-
    • Training programs.
    • Sending them to visit other nations which work on Parliamentary systems and Commonwealth Nations.
    • Apart from this, MPs need to have time to prepare before the parliamentary sessions. Although there are fixed time slots for this, it is not taken seriously.
    • Parliament lacks enough support staff to assist the members for performing their duties and responsibilities.

Election of Candidates

  • Political parties should look at the merits of the candidates instead of their winnability.
    • The quality of debate depends on the members nominated by the political parties for elections and then the elected members.
    • Winnability is the final determining factor in the election process but the background, merit and the credibility of the contester should be given the utmost priority.
  • MPs should be incentivised to actively take part in the proceedings of the parliament and the whip system should be done away with for trivial issues giving more space to the different perspectives of the MPs. It should be used only for very important issues.

Women’s Reservation Bill

  • At present, women’s representation in Parliament is 13% only.
  • Geeta Mukherjee Committee’s report which was presented in 1996 talked about it and in 2010, the Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha but Lok Sabha did not pass it.
  • Political parties should come together on a consensual basis and commit themselves to this issue.

Greater Powers to the Presiding Officer

  • In Rajya Sabha, a motion has to be moved by the agreed members to suspend a member from the proceedings of the house.
    • Speaker of the Lok Sabha has the power to ask or suspend a member from the proceedings of the house immediately and that change was introduced in 13th Lok Sabha (1999-2004) with G.M.C. Balayogi as the Speaker.
  • Longer tenure for the parliamentary committees is also suggested to ensure the capacity building of the members so that they can hold the government accountable in parliamentary deliberations.
  • Ensuring MPs’ awareness of the issues and effective participation in the parliamentary proceedings.

Improving the Law-Making Process

  • Some kind of pre and post-assessment has to be done to involve all stakeholders adopting a holistic approach.
  • There is always a scope for improvement in lawmaking to rule out the possibility of decisions which are not actually needed.
  • Strong subject-based legislative aids and experts are needed to strengthen the law-making process. It will give parliamentarians an extra added advantage and the laws will be more useful and targeted.
  • The parliamentary whip itself needs to be looked differently, allowing members dissent from within. It will allow the incorporation of multiple ideas to the law-making process and will enrich it.
  • Parliament has to play equal roles at the pre-legislative part of the law-making process and the post-legislative impact assessment or post-legislative scrutiny.

Legislative Impact Assessment

  • A detailed framework for pre and post Legislative Impact Assessment was needed.
  • Every legislative proposal must incorporate a detailed account of the social, economic, environmental and administrative impact of any law or legislation for wider awareness and subsequent legal assessment.
  • A new Legislation Committee of Parliament to oversee and coordinate legislative planning should be constituted.

Role of Parliamentary Committees

  • Parliament has time constraints whereas parliamentary committees have no such time constraints as they work throughout the year.
  • Parliament needs to utilise the time and resources of these committees.
  • Parliament which is an accountability institution of the government needs resources and top-notch research not only for the members but for the committee also.
  • Committees need subject-specific resources and research so expert panels should be provided to them.
  • It should be ensured that the entire lifecycle of the legislature is scrutinised.
  • Political parties also have to play an active role in guiding the legislators. It should bear the responsibility of informing the legislative agenda far before the session begins to give ample time to the members to participate.

Role of Political Parties in Ensuring Code of Conduct in the Legislature

  • The government can draft a code of conduct for the members of Parliament and circulate it among the political parties. It should be then finalised on a consensus-based mechanism.
  • Current code of conduct should be formally established and strict actions must be taken on violations.
  • Being the representatives of the public, MPs should abide by their expectations which are formulated into the code of conduct.
    • Although parliamentarians signed documents on code of conduct on the occasion of 50 years of Independence (1997), they did not work for long.
  • The issue is not just about the procedure and practice but also about politics which is equally important and needs to be responsible.

Way Forward

  • Ideas have to be institutionalised and put into actions.
  • Parliament’s sitting mechanism could be changed to a longer one instead of three sessions to save it from wasting time in the starting and ending processes.
  • Once the problem is found out, it is easy to identify and list the solution which should be done as soon as possible.
  • Strengthening the backbone of parliament, parliamentary secretariat, research and individual MPs’ capacities will help in overall strong structure and governance.
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