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PARLIAMENT STIFLED, BUSINESS, AND A WORD OF ADVICE

Focus: GS-II Governance

Introduction

  • The upcoming monsoon session of Parliament is emblematic of the issues faced by legislatures during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  • Parliament will maintain physical distancing, has truncated the Zero Hour (in which members raise issues pertinent to their constituents and of wider public interest), and cancelled Question Hour (in which Ministers have to answer questions raised by members).

Click Here to read more about Question Hour

A slew of notifications

  • Parliament will be meeting after 175 days, the longest gap without intervening general elections and just short of the six-month constitutional limit.
  • Parliamentary committees did not meet for about four months, and after that have had only in-person meetings, which have led to low attendance, given travel risks and restrictions.
  • The absence of a functioning Parliament or Committees implies that there has been no check or guidance on government action.

Court interventions

  • The lack of parliamentary oversight has been compounded by judicial intervention in many policy issues.
  • For example, the government’s actions related to the lockdown and the hardships caused to migrants should have been questioned by Parliament.
  • Discussions in parliamentary forums would have helped the government get feedback on the ground situation across the country and fine-tune its response.
  • However, this was taken to the Supreme Court.

Short session, much business

  • The fact that the two Houses are working in shifts to use the same physical space limits the scope of extended sittings on any day.
  • In the period since the last session, the government has issued 11 ordinances.
  • Five of these relate to the COVID-19 crisis and the lockdown: extending tax filing dates, moratorium on new insolvency cases, protection for health workers, and temporary cuts in salaries and allowances of Members of Parliament and Ministers.
  • Of the other six, two relate to supersession of the Boards of the councils that regulate homoeopathy and Indian systems of medicine, one allows the Reserve Bank of India to regulate cooperative banks (a similar Bill is pending in Parliament), and three relate to agricultural markets (allowing contract farming and trading outside mandis).

Conclusion

  • The absence of Question Hour and a shorter Zero Hour restricts the ability of Members of Parliament to hold the government accountable and represent public interest.
  • That said, Members of Parliament must use other available interventions to ensure that new laws and expenditure proposals are passed only after detailed discussion.
  • Parliamentarians have a duty towards Indian citizens to fulfil their role in scrutinising the work of the government and guiding policy.
  • Despite the curtailed session and the constraints due to the coronavirus, they should make the best of the limited time to do so.

-Source: The Hindu

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