Parliament: Time to evoke esma

Budget Session Trashed

By Poonam I Kaushish

Yawn! The outcome of Parliament’s Budget session predictably went according to script: washed out by the AIADMK’s Cauvery issue and the TDP and YSRCP demand for Special Status for Andhra. Resulting in the Opposition’s No Confidence Motion lost in pandemonium din. Underscoring how this temple of democracy is being used to score petty political points instead of reasoned debate and legislative business. Never mind, our Right Honourables go blue in the face about upholding the best tenets of Parliamentary democracy! Sic.
Shockingly, the Budget session has the dubious distinction of guillotining the budget of over Rs 24 lakh crores. Worse, walkouts and repeated adjournments have cost us a whopping Rs 194 crores till 20th March as Parliament’s productivity is staring into the arroyo. Example the Lok Sabha spent 1 per cent of time on legislative business and Rajya Sabha 6 per cent.
More scandalous, if we see the collective productivity of both Houses the Lok Sabha functioned for 31.6 hours and the Rajya Sabha for 7.4 hours out of 168 hours. According to Government estimates, the functioning of our temple of democracy costs Rs 2.5 lakhs per minute, with both Houses collectively sitting for only 38.8 hours out of 168 working hours, this translates into Parliament utilising roughly Rs 58 crores out of Rs 252 crores spent. Consequently, ‘we the people’ have paid a hefty amount for a failed session.
Less the better of Question Hour which is the hyphen between the Treasury Benches and Opposition. The time when the Government is accountable for its actions to MPs on policies and vital issues of public interest. Herein too, appallingly, only 16 per cent of the scheduled time was used to ask questions in the Lok Sabha, the Upper House fared worse at 5 per cent.
At one level, not a few would dismiss these outrageous happenings as an exercise in political one-upmanship between the NDA and Opposition. The former drawing blood and the latter battling for political legitimacy. At another, and far more significantly, what matters is the unprecedented and umpteen body blows administered to Parliament and its sovereignty by the NDA and Opposition. Individually and collectively.
Whereby, all conveniently forget that by obstructing the functioning of Parliament our Right Honourables are totally negating democracy as preventing the Houses from functioning is the road to dysfunctional politics which will only produce agitational politics and a deeply divided and disenchanted country.
But what is disgusting and perturbing is not that obstructionism is becoming more the rule rather than exception, but that our polity largely continues to drift along smugly without any shame, desire to turn a new page and prevent its crumble.
A sad reflection, indeed, of the depth to which India’s democracy has degenerated. Transgressing all limits of Parliamentary ethics. Not many seem to understand the diabolical and dangerous dimensions of making Parliament insignificant. Alas, we have settled for size, form and not content wherein supremacy of Parliament seems to have been replaced with the ‘to the streets’ bugle.
Thus, in this deteriorating political culture and ethos, Parliamentary proceedings have little material bearing on the course of politics. The contempt our Right Honourables hold for Parliament can be gauged from the shortening of the duration of the Houses. Shamefully, from a high of 151 in 1956, to 98 during the Emergency in1976, there has been a steady reduction in Parliamentary hours. In the last 10 years it ran for 64 to 67 days a year on an average.
Additionally, Parliament continues to pass many legislations without any debate which in itself is an abuse of the Parliamentary system. Records show that 47% bills in the last 10 years were passed with no discussion at all. Sixty-one per cent of these (24% in all) were passed in the last three hours of a session. Alongside, 31% of legislations were passed with no scrutiny or vetting by any Parliamentary standing or consultative committee. However, there is no mandatory requirement to refer bills to committees.
The contempt the powers-that-be have for Parliament can be gauged from the fact that they suffer from the Orwellian syndrome of more equal than others with a sense of entitlement: palatial bunglows, bijli, paani and telephone paid for, security paraphernalia, Rs 5 crores MPLADs annually et al. Interestingly, salaries of MPs were increased four times in the last five years, by themselves. Thereby, collectively affixing their seal of approval on political harlotry of the worst kind.
Add to this the decline in standards of educational qualifications of lawmakers in the last 20 years. Making matters worse, while educational qualifications of MPs have fallen, there has been a consistent demand by them for hike in their own salaries. The number of MPs with doctorate, post-doctorate and post-graduate degrees has declined by 62% in the last 20 years, records show.
What next? The time has come for all MPs to see how they can strengthen Parliamentary democracy before people begin to mock at it in sheer disgust. One way is that on policy matters and legislative business the Treasury and Opposition Benches should rise above sectarian political loyalties and be guided more by what the country needs, the sense of the House than the rule book.
Also, MPs shouldn’t be paid for the hours wasted in Parliament. Their salaries should be deducted for their failure to engage in any constructive work. Isn’t it ridiculous that a MP comes to Parliament signs his attendance and pockets his daily allowance of Rs 2000, shouts in the House which is adjourned without transacting any business and goes home. Certainly, we need to abolish this trend and replacing it with the fair practice of no work, no pay.
It needs to be remembered that the temple of democracy is the bedrock of our nation State. Parliament represents the people of India, who count upon it to function as the sovereign watchdog of their national interest. Constitutionally, the Executive is responsible and accountable to Parliament every second of the day. Its survival depends on its enjoying the confidence of the Lok Sabha. Nothing more, nothing less.
Thus, our leaders need to heed voices of reason. Tying up Parliament in trivia, sans business does not behove the world’s largest democracy. Time to change the rules to ensure accountability along-with amending the substance nomenclature whereby educated, honest MPs enter Parliament to serve the people rather than themselves. Perhaps, bring Parliament under ESMA (Essential Services Management Act) wherein disrupting its functioning will become an offence.
Clearly, with Parliament continuing to be trivialised and denigrated without even the slightest tinge of remorse or regret, the time has come to give serious thought to rectifying the flaws in our system and urgently overhauling. Our Right Honourables must introspect about what kind of legacy they are going to leave behind. Will they allow Parliament to sink under the weight of its increasing decadence?
If necessary, rules should be drastically changed to put Parliament back on the rails. Indira Gandhi once wisely said: “Parliament is a bulwark of democracy…. if that is lost, then I don’t know what could happen later.” Time to heed her words and stop playing games. Else, say goodbye to democracy! —- INFA