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            Vice President Venkaiah Naidu on Tuesday pushed for the Women’s Reservation Bill and reforms in the way Parliament works including a code of conduct for lawmakers and greater powers to the presiding officer to deal with disruptive legislators. The Vice President, who delivered the first Arun Jaitley memorial lecture at Delhi University, also pitched for a minimum sitting for both Houses in a year and a longer tenure to parliament’s standing committees. Pointing out that women at present constitute only about 13% of Parliament, he urged political parties to take forward “the legislation in the Parliament for reservation of women in legislatures”. The Vice President also suggested a list of broad framework of reforms for parliamentary institutions to “enhance the trust of the people in them.” He suggested both “pre and post Legislative Impact Assessment” for “quality and informed law making. He also said that the practise of reconstituting Parliamentary standing committees every year can be stopped and nomination of members in the committees may be “based on academic backgrounds and their re-nomination on the same committees for a longer period.”


Vice President seeks a new political normal based on 15 point reform charter for better functioning of Parliament

Expressing concern over the functioning of parliamentary institutions in the country and erosion of public trust in them, the Vice President, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu today unveiled a 15 point reform charter as the basis for a new political normal to enable effective functioning of the Parliament and State Legislatures.

  • He called for a new political consciousness urging all the stakeholders to review their mindset with regard to their roles and responsibilities.
  • Expressing concern over poor attendance in the legislatures and the quality of debates, the Vice President urged the political parties to ensure attendance of at least 50% of their legislators all through the proceedings of the Houses by adopting a roster system.
  • Responding to the concerns over stifling of the freedom of expression of the legislators due to issuance of ‘Whip’, Shri Naidu called for a review of the same so as to enable reasonable degree of dissent without impacting the stability of the government.
  • The Vice President also advocated a thorough review of the Anti Defection Law to rectify the grey areas like incentivising legislators to resort to actions inviting expulsion from the party besides providing for time bound disposal of defection cases by the Presiding Officer.
  • Referring to the functioning of the Department Related Standing Committees that came into being in 1993  for detailed examination of legislative proposals, Demands for Grants and other select subjects on behalf of the Parliament, Shri Naidu expressed concern over declining attendance, lack of specialisation, limited tenure of one year, frequent hopping of Committees etc.
  • Shri Naidu proposed a detailed framework based pre and post Legislative Impact Assessment.
  • Conceding that the present ‘First Pass The Post (FPTP)’ system of electing people’s representatives is faulty to the extent that MPs and MLAs are being elected with substantially less than 50% of voter. He further said that the proportional representation being advocated in some quarters would lead to promotion of further social and political cleavages besides being not practical due to implementation issues.
  • Shri Venkaiah Naidu stated that ‘Parliamentary form of Government’ is one of the features of the ‘Basic structure of the Constitution’ and is accordingly beyond the power of Parliament to be amended as per the settled position in the matter.
  • Referring to the long held perception about the role of caste, community, region and religion in influencing the voting preferences in the country, Vice President Shri Naidu stated that there is growing evidence to suggest the decline of such identity based voting but it needs to be completely stamped out.
  • Shri Naidu underscored the need for the governments to be responsive to the concerns of the Opposition and the Opposition to be responsible and constructive during the debates and while criticising the government and opposing legislation.
  • The other reform proposals of Vice President and Chairman of Rajya Sabha  include building consensus on simultaneous polls to let unfettered governance, enacting for reservation of women in legislatures, making rules that automatically take effect against erring members in case of interruptions and disruptions, regular publication of reports by the Secretariats of Legislatures on the attendance of Members and their participation in debates, doing away with the winnability as the sole criterion for selecting contestants by the parties to address the concern of rising number of legislators with criminal record.


How can we say that the significance of Parliament has diminished over the years?

  • The process of legislation has become slow and lagged. Laws are often passed in rush with little scrutiny and no follow- up rules. In some cases, it takes sessions together for a bill to become law.
  • Parliament, which was meant to invoke accountability, has almost forgotten its role. Now, the only means are questions asked by MPs, many of which are pedantic, unclear or on behest. Besides, these questions are often answered with less or hidden facts by the government.
  • Discourse and debate on issues of national importance were an attribute and highlight of Parliament during the first two decades of the republic, until around 1970. But this has eroded and diminished with the passage of time.
  • Number of days when the parliament meets and discusses the relevant issues have also gone down.
  • The criminalization of politics is another concern


Reasons for the diminishing role of the parliament:

  • The barriers to entry in politics are formidable. The only access comes from kinship or money. And muscle power matters as a determinant of success.
  • Also, there are institutional constraints on the performance of MPs as well. The allocation of time for MPs to speak is proportional to the strength of their political party in the house and its leadership decides who gets to speak and for how long. The speaker of the Lok Sabha or the chairman of the Rajya Sabha have little discretion in the matter.
  • The only other opportunities for MPs are during question hour or zero hour. Answers to unstarred questions are simply laid on the table of the house. Starred questions are too many. Only a few come up for discussion. And these are just not taken up if the concerned MP is not present at the time. In zero hour, the speaker or the chairman have the discretion to invite an MP to speak, but time is too little and speeches are often drowned out in pandemonium.
  • MPs also do not quite have the freedom to speak in our Parliament as in other democracies.
  • Parliament also does not meet or work long enough and there are institutional constraints on its performance while working.


How parliamentary committees be made more effective?

  • Parliamentary committees don’t have dedicated subject-wise research support available. The knowledge gap is partially bridged by expert testimony from government and other stakeholders. Their work could be made more effective if the committees had full-time, sector-specific research staff.
  • The national commission to review the working of the Constitution has recommended that in order to strengthen the committee system, research support should be made available to them.
  • Currently, the rules of Parliament don’t require every bill to be referred to a parliamentary committee for scrutiny. While this allows the government greater flexibility and the ability to speed up legislative business, it comes at the cost of ineffective scrutiny by the highest law-making body. Mandatory scrutiny of all bills by parliamentary committees would ensure better planning of legislative business.


Way Forward:

  • Parliament has to meet for minimum mandated number of days
  • Need strong legislative aids which is practiced in other democracies.
  • Organising training programmes and visits to other parliamentary countries.
  • Parliament without meeting often cannot hold the executive accountable.
  • Passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill (108th amendment) reserving 33% of all seats in Parliament and State legislatures for women.
  • India needs a systemic approach for legislative engineering and prioritization.
  • A constitution committee can be appointed to look in to the matters related to constitutional amendments proposed.
  • The Anti-Defection Act needs to be recast, and used only in the most exceptional circumstances, while allowing MPs free rein on their self-expression.
  • The concept of a free vote allowing MPs to vote as they wish on particular legislative items.
  • Investing in Parliament’s intellectual capital is necessary and additional budgetary support should be provided.
  • An institutionalized process is necessary to raise quality and rigour associated with the budget scrutiny process.

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