Structural reforms needed in Rajya Sabha: Think tank

Two key structural changes are necessary to tackle the high incidence of disruptions in the Rajya Sabha, said Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy

GN Bureau | August 11, 2016


#distruptions   #Rajya Sabha   #parliament  


The disruptions in the Rajy Sabha are attributable to a mismatch between the power of the Rajya Sabha in being able to check and balance government, and its composition, which is entirely political and delinked from federal interests, said a report 'Disruptions in the Indian Parliament’ by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.


The report, which analyses the activities of two sessions of the parliament- the Winter Session of 2013-2014 and the Monsoon Session of 2015, said as the check and balance function is a significant one, structural reforms are necessary to ensure that such checks are exercised for the right reasons and in a parliamentary manner.


“In order to do so, there are two key structural changes necessary. First, of the MPs who are elected by members of state legislatures, there ought to be a limitation that at least one-half of them must be persons of eminence, not belonging to any political party. This quota of eminent non-political MPs elected by state legislators can operate uniformly across the country. This will strike a careful balance— capable legislators belonging to political parties will be elected, as will men and women of eminence from outside the political sphere. A simple proviso to this effect must be introduced in Article 80 of the Constitution, in order to effectuate this change.


“Second, the Rajya Sabha must be restored to its original function of espousing state interests at the federal level. This can be effectively done if the residency requirements of MPs, who are elected, are strengthened such that persons are elected from states where they currently reside, or at least have resided in for a period of five years prior to their election. This will create greater accountability of the MP to raise state-specific concerns and increase chances that she will actually do so given that she has nexus with the state she represents...Thus, Section 3 of the RP Act ought to be amended to require residence in the State or territory from which the MP is a candidate to the Rajya Sabha.”


On anti-defection, the report said it is evident from the law relating to defection, that it strikes a poor balance between the need for party discipline and the parliamentary privilege of free speech of an MP, unambiguously privileging the former over the latter.

“There are good reasons to ensure that persons continue to represent parties they were members of at the time of their election and not be subverted by fair means or foul play to other parties. At the same time such a restriction should not ordinarily apply to behaviour in parliament, unless it deals with particular kinds of voting that are crucial to the survival of the government. This is especially so since a parliamentary whip can now be issued on any vote or matter pertaining to the stance taken by a party in parliament. Thus, the application of the law of defection by convention should only be when a MP votes against the party whip on a no-confidence motion or a finance bill.”


The parliamentary rules, the report said, provide the members of the opposition parties with limited means to intervene and lead discussions in parliament. It sought the parliamentary sessions may be structured on similar lines as in the UK and USA, where the opposition parties get the opportunity to lead discussions.

“A provision to this effect must be included in the rules of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, wherein when the parliament is in session, at least one day per week, preferably a Monday, must be allocated towards discussions that are led by the members of the opposition parties. The apportionment of time towards such discussions must be determined during the allocation of business slated to be transacted at the session in parliament.”


The report went on to say that the Question Hour and Zero Hour serve as forums for MPs to pose questions to the ruling government, and express their opinions against the actions of the ruling government.


“However, it is commonly observed that the questions and the statements of MPs in these forums have the propensity to invoke disruptions, rather than further debate in Parliament.  It may also be pointed out that the prime minister of India does not appear to be bound by any convention to remain present during the Question Hour or the Zero Hour. This also aggravates the existing chaos in parliament, since there is no substitute for the prime minister in terms of authority,” it added.


Suggesting substantive reforms, the report said that while the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Rules provide comprehensive guidance on parliamentary etiquette, they do not regulate parliamentary interruptions per se, which are an acceptable form of intervention during parliamentary deliberations.


“This is worrisome, as MPs are not supplied with any guidance on the exact methods of intervention that are permissible in parliament that do not involve disruptions. Furthermore, the terms ‘interruption’ and ‘disruption’, which are often used in the documents supplied by the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha Secretariat, have not been defined under the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha Rules. As a result, it is impossible for MPs to distinguish between the kinds of interventions that are acceptable, and that are not.”


The report recommended three key measures to counter these issues. First, the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Rules must provide for a distinction between a ‘disruption’ and an ‘interruption’. Second, an express provision on the permissible methods of intervention during parliamentary debates must be incorporated into the parliamentary rules for providing MPs with greater clarity on the intervention devices available to them. Third, to counter some of the issues highlighted, it is recommended that the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Rules incorporate an express provision which permits MPs to express views which are divergent from the views of her party.


The Vidhi report also suggested reduction of salary for suspended members and said that live telecast can be discontinued when disruptions become excessive. “One of the reasons for disruptions becoming a norm in the Indian Parliament, is the grandstanding by MPs for live coverage in the media. The presence of an audience seems to have considerable impact on the behaviour of MPs, motivating them to engage in disruptions of the most grievous kind.”


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