[Editorial Analysis] Making the House Work

Mains Paper 2: Polity
Prelims level: Parliamentary functioning process
Mains level: Issues related to Parliament

Context:

• Against the backdrop of the hasty manner in which the three farm acts have been rammed through Parliament and then sought to be repealed in the current session, highlights the need for an efficient and robust Parliamentary scrutiny.

What’s Happening?

• The entire farm laws cycle from passing to repealing highlights the rift between Parliament and protesters who have doggedly resisted the laws for over 1 year.

• Further during the last 2 years, the Parliament has passed a few bills whose constitutionality is in serious doubt and which are challeneged by various social sections.

• The functioning of the current Lok Sabha poses challenges to the essence of representative democracy.

• Because even with a good majority in Lok sabha and a reasonable vote share of 37%, the ruling regime has drawn severe criticism from multiple quarters such as:

• Sliding in India’s status in international rankings on democracy, human rights and press freedom and rising sedition cases.

• Further, though the laws passed by Parliament are increasingly unacceptable for small sections of society, the arguments put forward by them remain persuasive.

• The majority govt today seems less representative than many minority govts of the past because it cannot take the majority along.

Reasons for declining performance of Parliamentary Scrutiny:

Diminished say in legislative matters:

• There was a decrease in the involvement of standing committees in legislative matters, data show. In the 16th Lok Sabha, only 25% of all bills were referred to committees, compared to 71% under the 15th Lok Sabha.

• Only about 10% of bills introduced in Parliament during the 17th Lok Sabha have been referred to committees, data show.

Frequent utilization of Ordinance route:

• Between March and August, the government has promulgated 11 ordinances). This includes the Taxation and other Laws (Relaxation of Certain Provisions) Ordinance, 2020 that amended the Income Tax Act and allowed 100% tax exemption to donations made to the PM Cares Fund.

• However, Ordinances are most often brought to escape parliamentary scrutiny and the law-making process.

Virtual meetings not allowed:

• Despite demands by four chairpersons to conduct virtual meetings for standing committees, the Speaker refused the requests arguing that it would break the confidentiality conditions under Rule 275 of the Lok Sabha.

The steady decline in the effectiveness of the committees is due to:

• MPs are unable to pay attention to the committees as their constituencies make a huge demand on their time and prevent MPs from paying attention to parliamentary work.

• The committee chair’s supervisory role has not proved to be effective. So far no mechanism for a regular assessment of the performance of the committee has been put in place.

• Shorter Parliamentary Sessions, a Trend: The Session of Parliament for 2021 ended two weeks before the planned time due to the involvement of political leaders in campaigning for the state assembly elections.

• One major weakness of these committees is the lack of standing research support and internal expertise.

• Low attendance of MPs at meetings.

• Too many ministries under a committee and the constitution of DRSCs for a year leaves very little time and space for specializations.

• At the same time most political parties failed to follow norms while nominating MPs to committees;

Role of Opposition:

• In Parliament, the opposition needs to ensure coordination on common strategies on parliamentary procedures and above all, endeavor to represent voices that have been suppressed by the current regime.

• At the same time, the main responsibility of opposition is to avoid creating pandemonium tactics.

• Because noise and sloganeering cannot replace the responsibility to represent, it only cover-up for bad coordination and lack of homework.

• It needs to take up the responsibility to challenge and probe the govt and require all MPs to sensitive to public opinion as well as to protests outside Parliament.

• Because the role of ruling party MPs is not merely to ram through the House whatever the govt wishes but also probe the executive delicately.

• At the same time, Ruling party MPs need to break an atmosphere of losing semblance of authenticity in their roles as representatives.

• Because the independence of ruling party members is connected both to intra-party democracy and to intraparty factionalism, which makes the party internal functioning democratic. Also, it is important to have their own intellectual position.

• Finally, the farm protests showcased that resilient protests can bridge the gap between the law and societal needs. Though there is negativity surrounding the protests.

• Protests have played, and will continue to play a critical role in forcing the people to confront the issue of representation.

Conclusions:

• The need of the hour for parliament to regain its representative character, ruling Party members need to be more sincere about the parliamentary system and unafraid of executive power.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) Consider the following statements:

1. During the onset of winter, in areas close to the sea such as Colaba, the temperature is always 1 to 2 degree lower than in other areas of the city.

2. Levels of traffic-related air pollution can be substantially elevated along a road surrounded by tall buildings and this is called the Urban Canyon Effect.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: C

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