Legislature reform is must in New India

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Legislature reform is must in New India

Wednesday, 10 August 2022 | Sumeet Bhasin

Legislature reform is must in New India

New India cannot be shaped by existing legislature, and it requires radical reform

The Monsoon session of Parliament was washed out for all the practical purposes. The lawmakers have taken creating pandemonium as their principal vocation. The public issues that the lawmakers of the country should have been representing in Parliament and state Assemblies are hardly being taken up by the elected representatives.

At a time when India commemorates 75 years of independence, it’s worthwhile to examine the functioning of Parliament and the state legislatures. While Parliament sessions are disrupted at the will of the Opposition leaders on the call of their akas on grounds which are largely seen driven by vested interests, the state Assemblies too have become distanced from the people, with their annual average sittings being just about 23 days.

There needs to be hard-nosed reforms in the rule books of both the Houses of Parliament and the state Assemblies, while also carrying out tough and deeper reform measures in the electoral system of India. The next few decades warrant expeditious reforms in the legislature, else the opportunities emerging out of the fast-changing global order and the consequent shift in the global supply chain would skip India.

Both the Houses of Parliament couldn’t function in the Monsoon session merely because the Enforcement Directorate is going ahead with the probe in the National Herald case, and summoned the Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, besides carrying out raids at the National Herald headquarters. This amounts to influencing the functioning of the investigative agency, which was given much of the powers by the Congress-led UPA

government in 2005 only.

This needs examination since the valuable time of the Parliament has been wasted by the Congress. Therefore, the presiding officers of the two Houses of Parliament, the Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and the Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu and his successor Jagdeep Dhankar, should sit together and decide to call a meeting of leaders of all the

political parties and urgently adopt the agenda to reform the rule books of the conduct of the business.

The Biju Janata Dal never troops into the well of the House. The MPs of this party never raise slogans in Parliament. Even the Congress MP Shashi Tharoor never rushes into the well of the House; he also doesn’t indulge in slogan shouting. That makes it incumbent that the ruckus created by the Congress has no support from some sections of the Opposition also.   

There should be ‘No adjournment’

policy for both Houses of Parliament, and the MPs who shout and raise slogans should be named and sent out by the marshals and their salaries and allowances be also cut. There should be severe punishment for holding placards and trooping into the well of the House, while TV broadcast by Sansad TV shouldn’t show agitating members.

Erring MPs are first suspended for one day, and if they gain three suspensions, their allowances are cut, while they shouldn’t get chances to speak for the next two to three sessions. Let there be a ceiling on the number of incidents that the MPs can violate the norms of the two Houses. If that ceiling is breached, the erring MPs will be barred from contesting next polls.

At the same time, the electoral reforms should make it clear that an MP can have only two continuous terms and after that there should be a break for one term, while the minimum age be lowered from 25 years to 21 years. This will give the millennial a better sense of participation in Indian democracy. Equally important is to have the provision of vote of non-confidence to be brought only with a vote of confidence to ensure that the House is not dissolved before its full term. Such provisions should also apply to the Assemblies.

Also, the Lok Sabha polls can be contested only by those who are in Assemblies or the legislative Councils to help the better integration of the three-tier democracy in the country. This needs to be looked into closely with suitable amendments in the Representation of the Peoples Act to ensure that people do not just parachute into the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha, and rather they go through the full length grinding of the democratic institutions, beginning from the basic unit of the Panchayati Raj Institutions in the rural areas and the local bodies in the urban centres. This is most needed to ensure that the elected representatives have genuine and broader understanding of the functioning of the Indian democracy at all levels.

Parliamentary committees should have subject experts, with no voting rights, to allow space for the domain expertise while scrutinizing the legislative bills and also to help the capacity building of the MPs. This will address the anomaly of the MPs who have questionable understanding of Defence being members of the Parliamentary standing committee on defence.

It is equally important that there be a sharp eye on the assets of the members of the legislatures. Any disproportionate growth in the assets of the lawmakers should be probed by the competent agencies and the outcomes be revealed in the public domain within a fixed timeframe. The assets of MPs and the MLAs, besides the members of the Zila Panchayat and Parishad, should be tracked closely by appropriate agencies so that neither they nor their near and dear ones abnormally grow their assets by taking the benefits of the positions and the status.

The democratic institutions function on conventions and rules. There is a growing need to accord greater importance to the convention of the good practices as had been the part of the legislatures in the early days of the formation. Now the trend seems that the Opposition parties believe that they come to the Houses only to speak and they stage walk outs when the ministers reply to the issues that they had raised. This is quite undemocratic in nature, and shows intolerance on the parts of the Opposition parties to debate and discourse.

The Opposition approach of ‘My way or No Way’ is totally undemocratic in nature. Additionally, the records set in the Houses of the Parliament and the Assemblies are for the posterity. The next generation will learn that the Parliament and the legislative Assemblies are not the places to hold serious discussions on law making or in-depth debate on issues that may shape the future of the country but to indulge in slogan shouting and engaging in rancor. This is not democracy, and the future generation may be deprived of healthy conventions to emulate from to further excel.

This makes it incumbent upon the presiding officers to evolve conventions, while sensitizing the lawmakers, about preserving the good practices, and avoid playing to the galleries to capture the camera's attention. If the need be even the rules can be amended for the business of the legislative Houses to codify the good practices.

New India cannot function in old ways, and the deep legislative reforms are unavoidable.

(The author is Director, Public Policy Research Centre)

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