No time for legislation

Hot topics overshadow parliament


Prasanna Mohanty | May 4, 2010

Scan the news channels or the newspapers for update on the current parliament session and you will come across these headlines screaming  at you: “Lok Sabha adjourned over Mumbai railway strike”, “Parliament adjourns twice after uproar over 2G spectrum issue”, “Parliament adjourned over phone-tapping issue” and so on.  The list is endless. The previous weeks saw similar adjournments over some other issues--IPL, Tharoor, price rise, Dantewada massacre etc.

What about the legislative business which is supposed to be the main task of the highest legislative body? Well, the less said the better. The worst part is none, not even the opposition parties, seems to care about it any longer. Have you ever heard of an adjournment over passage of a bill without discussion?

On Monday, Lok Sabha saw passage of three bills without any discussion—Employees’ State Insurance (Amendment) Bill of 2009, Payment of Gratuity Bill and Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Bill. That is because these bills were taken up for passage amidst uproar over various other issues—allegations about a Trinamool Congress minister’s involvement in illegal arms deal and allegations about a DMK minister’s role in the 2G spectrum auction.

Four more bills, all relating to higher education—Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, Educational Tribunals Bill and Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical Institutions, Medical Educational Institutions and University Bill—were introduced in Lok Sabha without any discussion.

Recall how Rajya Sabha cleared the Women’s Reservation Bill, which sought to alter the very composition of the legislature, by a voice vote at first and then, as if on second thoughts, proceeded to a debate and eventual passage through proper voting.

This practice, of passing bills amidst pandemonium and without discussion, has become quite common. According to the data compiled by a Delhi-based think tank, PRS Legislative Research, last year parliament saw passage of eight bills-- which included Commercial Division of High Courts Bill and Trade Mark Amendment Bill--with less than five minutes’ discussion. The previous year, the winter session of 2008, had seen passage of 16 bills in less than 20 minutes that included crucial ones like Information Technology Amendment Bill, Code of Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill, Gram Nyayalayas Bill and Prevention of Corruption Amendment Bill. In 2007, PRS Legislative Research said 30 to 40 percent of bills were passed “without significant debate”.

Some studies have also pointed out how time devoted in parliament to legislative work has been steadily declining. From close to 50 percent at the beginning, parliament is now spending only about 20 to 25 percent of its time in legislative business. Mind you, we are not even talking about the time lost to frequent adjournments or the declining number of days that both houses of parliament meet every year.




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