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A Parliament Without Disruption

Context

The Monsoon session of Parliament ended four days ahead of schedule, despite ongoing disruptions caused by issues such as price increases, suspension of 27 MPs, Enforcement Directorate action against some opposition leaders, and so on.

This is the seventh consecutive time the parliament session has been cut short.

Relevance:

GS Paper2: Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.

Mains Question

The decision to skip “Question Hour” during the Monsoon Session of Parliament has raised serious concerns about the institution’s democratic functioning and undermines the constitutional mandate of parliamentary oversight over executive action. Discuss (250 words)


Background

  • • The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha were adjourned sine die, with seven and five bills, respectively, passed during the monsoon session, which was set to end on August 12.
  • While the Lok Sabha held 16 sittings totaling 44 hours and 29 minutes, the upper house met for 38 hours, with up to 47 hours lost due to disruption.
  • The “disrupt-and-devour-attention” drama that dominated much of the monsoon session is cause for grave concern because it jeopardises Parliament’s ability to conduct business and conduct serious deliberation on significant issues of public importance.

Reasons for decreased parliamentary productivity include:

  • Lost fervour (passion): If a parliamentarian arrives prepared to the House and disruption occurs too frequently, their enthusiasm fades, resulting in popular rather than substantive intervention.
  • For example, humour, poetry, emotional appeal, and a few philosophical quotations, all of which have a negative impact on the quality of debates.
    • Faux (insincere) efforts: Many opposition members argue vehemently that the bill be referred to the relevant standing committee for further review.
  • However, the percentage of members attending these committee meetings—their duration, quality of deliberations, and outcomes—do not appear to be a genuine effort.
    • Less emphasis on quality debate: Although disruptions have become more common, they continue to be widely reported, and disruptors frequently bask in the media spotlight. In contrast, those who deliver a reasonably good speech—well-argued and supported by statistics, examples, or case studies—rarely receive adequate attention, further undermining parliamentarians’ interest.
    • The role of the media: Due to dwindling reader interest, the space allotted for parliamentary proceedings in both print and electronic media is rapidly shrinking.
  • Inadequate coverage of Question Hour or Zero Hour, for example, in comparison to previous years.
  • Bill debates are also subject to brief and hazy reporting.

Way forward

  • Presiding officers imitating (emulating) courts of law: Presiding officers can conduct in-camera proceedings in their chambers to protect at least the Zero Hour and Question Hour from disruption.
  • While the House is forced to adjourn, presiding officers can order in-camera hearings of MPs’ questions and ministers’ replies.
    • Fixed Schedule: The parliamentary schedule can be changed as follows:
  • For limited flexibility, a calendar of sittings could be announced at the start of each year.
  • The rules should be changed so that the House is summoned if a significant minority of members (say, 25% or 33%) provide written notice.
    • Incorporate best practises (UK Model): The British Parliament allots 20 days per year for the opposition to decide the agenda. A constitutional convention requires the Prime Minister to respond to questions directly posed to him by MPs.
  • Creating a new Index: A parliamentary disruption index should be developed as a means of monitoring disruptions in legislatures and preventing indiscipline. It would also make more time available for debate and discussion of issues before the House.

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October 2022
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