parliament

Parliamentary performance this session

The Lok Sabha  adjourns today for a three-week recess.  The Rajya Sabha is scheduled to adjourned on March 18.  Here’s a brief look at the activity of Parliament this session (data till March 15): Productive Hours: The session has witnessed more than its fair share of disruptions.  In the 14 sitting days, over 22 hours has been lost to interruptions in the Lok Sabha and over 26 hours in the Rajya Sabha.  The number of productive hours so far is 53 and 50 hours in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively. [Click here to compare with previous sessions.] The session began with protests by the Opposition, putting pressure on the Government to schedule a debate on price rise.  After the presentation of the Budget, the protests revolved around the petroleum price hike.  The disruptions in the Rajya Sabha were on account of the Women’s Reservation Bill, which resulted in the suspension of seven MPs. On March 9 the Rajya Sabha was adjourned five times, before the passage of the Bill. Legislative business: This session, the government had listed 63 Bills for introduction, 16 pending Bills for consideration and passing and 10 pending Bills for consideration and passing if their Standing Committee reports are submitted. Other than financial business transacted, which includes passage of Demand for Grants and Appropriation Bills, the only legislation that has been passed so far is the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha. The Lok Sabha also has passed one Bill that replaces an Ordinance - the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Bill. In the 14 sitting days, the House has spent 6 hours on legislative business. Question Hour: Another important aspect of parliamentary business is the Question Hour.  Interestingly, the Lok Sabha rules were amended before the start of this session to ensure that the absence of MPs does not result in the collapse of Question Hour.  However, the amount of time spent on questions in both Houses this session has remained under 5 hours.

Ratifying Reservation

There have been articles in the media on the future passage of the Women's Reservation Bill stating that the Bill will have to be ratified by state legislatures before it is signed into law by the President.  Our analysis indicates that ratification by state legislatures is not required.  We state the reasons below: This Bill amends the Constitution.  It (a) amends Article 239AA,  Article 331, and Article 333, and  (b) inserts Article 330A, Article 332A, and Article 334A.  In doing so the Bill:

  • Seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies;
  • One third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be reserved for women of those groups in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies;
  • Reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies.

Article 368 regulates the procedure for amending the Constitution.  It states that the ratification of the state legislatures to a constitutional amendment is required in the following cases: a. If there is a change in the provisions regarding elections to the post of the President of India. b. If there is a change in the extent of the executive power of the centre or the state governments. c. If there is any change in the provisions regarding the Union judiciary or the High Courts. d. If the distribution of legislative powers between the centre and the states is affected. e. If any of the Lists in the Seventh Schedule is affected. f. If the representation of the states in the Rajya Sabha is changed. g. Lastly, if Article 368 itself is amended. None of these provisions are attracted in the case of the Women's Reservation Bill.  The Parliament recently extended the reservation of seats for SCs, STs and Anglo-Indians in Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies by another ten years.  Article 334 was amended to state that such reservation "will cease to have effect on the expiration of a period of seventy years from the commencement of the Constitution."  The 109th Amendment Bill was passed by both Houses of Parliament and did not require the ratification of the states before being signed into law by the President.  It follows that if Bills amending provisions for reserving seats for SCs and STs don't need ratification by state legislatures, a bill reserving seats for women does not need ratification either. Thus Article 368 very clearly lays down situations in which state legislatures have to ratify a piece of legislation before it can receive the assent of the President.

Disruptions in Parliament

Indiscipline and disruptions in Parliament are much talked about issues.  Not only are disruptions a waste of Parliament's valuable time, these significantly taint the image of this esteemed institution.  Commotion in Rajya Sabha over the introduction of Women's Reservation Bill and the subsequent suspension of 7 MPs has brought this issue back to the forefront.  We thought it might be useful to research and highlight instances in the past when the House had had to deal with similar situations. According to the Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette of the Rajya Sabha, "The House has the right to punish its members for their misconduct whether in the House or outside it.  In cases of misconduct or contempt committed by its members, the House can impose a punishment in the form of admonition, reprimand, withdrawal from the House, suspension from the service of the House, imprisonment and expulsion from the House." Mild offences are punished by admonition or reprimand (reprimand being the more serious of the two).  Withdrawal from the House is demanded in the case of gross misconduct. 'Persistent and wilful obstructions' lead the Chairman to name and subsequently move a motion for suspension of the member.  A member can be suspended, at the maximum, for the remainder of the session only. In an extreme case of misconduct, the House may expel a member from the House. According to a comment in the above rule book, "The purpose of expulsion is not so much disciplinary as remedial, not so much to punish members as to rid the House of persons who are unfit for membership." There have been several instances in the past when the Parliament has exercised its right to punish members. We pulled together a few instances: Rajya Sabha

Unruly behaviour – Some instances
3-Sep-62 Shri Godey Murahari was suspended for the remainder of the session on 3 Septemebr 1962. He was removed by the Marshal of the House
25-Jul-66 Shri Raj Narain and Shri Godey Murahari were suspended for one week by two separate motions moved on 25 July 1966, by the Leader of the House (Shri M.C. Chagla) and adopted by the House. After they refused to withdraw, they were removed by the Marshal of the House. Next day, the Chairman expressed his distress and leaders of parties expressed their regret at the incident
12-Aug-71 The Minister of Parliamentary Affairs (Shri Om Mehta) moved a motion on 12 August 1971, for the suspension of Shri Raj Narain for the remainder of the session. The motion was adopted. Shri Raj Narain, on refusing to withdraw, was removed by the Marshal of the House
Source: Rajya Sabha, Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette
Expulsion – All instances (three in total)
15-Nov-76 Shri Subramanian Swamy was expelled on 15 November 1976 on the basis of the Report of the Committee appointed to investigate his conduct and activities. The Committee found his conduct derogatory to the dignity of the House and its members and inconsistent with the standards which the House expects from its members
23-Dec-05 Dr. Chhattrapal Singh Lodha was expelled on 23 December 2005, for his conduct being derogatory to the dignity of the House and inconsistent with the Code of Conduct, consequent on the adoption of a motion by the House agreeing with the recommendation contained in the Seventh Report of the Committee on Ethics
21-Mar-06 Dr. Swami Sakshi Ji Maharaj was expelled on 21 March 2006, for his gross misconduct which brought the House and its members into disrepute and contravened the Code of Conduct for members of Rajya Sabha, consequent on the adoption of a motion by the House agreeing with the recommendation of the Committee on Ethics contained in its Eighth Report
Source: Rajya Sabha, Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette

Lok Sabha

Unruly behaviour – Some instances
15-Mar-89 Commotion in the House over the Thakkar Commission report (Report of Justice Thakkar Commission of Inquiry on the Assassination of the Late Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi; revelations published in Indian Express before report tabled in Parliament) led to 63 MPs being suspended for a week. An opposition member belonging to the Janata Group (Syed Shahabuddin) who had not been suspended, submitted that he also be treated as suspended and walked out of the House. Three other members (GM Banatwalla, MS Gill and Shaminder Singh) also walked out in protest.
20-Jul-89 Demand for resignation of Govt. because of the adverse remarks made against it by the CAG in his report on Defence Services for the year 1988-89 saw commotion in the House. Satyagopal Misra dislodged microphone placed before the Chair and threw it in the pit of the House. (Sheila Dikshit was the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs). No member was suspended.
Source: Subhash Kashyap, Parliamentary Procedure (Second Edition)

Budgetary History: Evolution of legislative "power of the purse"

The presentation of the Annual Budget before the parliament is one of the mechanisms available to any legislature to scrutinise and authorise revenues and expenditures of the country.   In this post I quote and summarise from two sources (Rick Stapenhurst, "The legislature and the Budget", in Legislative Oversight and Budgeting, World Bank Institute Development Studies, and The evolution of parliament’s power of the purse) which describe briefly how oversight by the legislature over the state's finances evolved historically. "The evolution of legislative "power of the purse" dates back to medieval times, when knights and burgesses in England were summoned to confirm the assent of local communities to the raising of additional taxes."  By the 1300s the English parliament had begun to use its power to vote on funds depending on the acceptance of petitions presented by parliament to the monarch.  In 1341, the monarch agreed that citizens should not be taxed ("charged or grieved to make common aid or sustain charge") without the assent of Parliament. "In parallel, the English Parliament began to take an interest in how money was collected, as well as how it was spent."  In the 1300's itself, it started appointing commissioners to audit the accounts of tax collectors. This power of oversight however evolved gradually, and particularly over the 16th century, when the "monarchs needed parliamentary support and voting of funds for their various political and religious battles.  King Henry VIII for example, gave Parliament enhanced status in policy making, in return for support during his battles with Rome." The 1689 Bill of Rights firmly established "the principle that only Parliament could authorize taxation.  Still, at this stage there was still no such thing as an annual budget, and there was no comprehensive control of expenditures."  The British Parliament also passed a resolution in 1713 to limit Parliament's power to "not vote sums in excess of the Government’s estimates. Consequently, the only amendments that are in order are those which aim to reduce the sums requested." "Since that time, the "power of the purse" function has been performed by legislatures around the world as a means to expand their democratic leverage on behalf of citizens."

The Union Budget

The budget process is covered by live TV and extensively by most newspapers each year.  Most large companies have their own analysis of the budget.  Increasingly, there is an effort by civil society groups to analyse the budget to decipher the allocations to the social sector.  All of this is hugely important and indeed necessary for greater scrutiny and analysis by citizens across the country.

But we at PRS have often spoken about the role of Parliament in effectively scrutinising the government.  If there is anything that the Parliament must scrutinise carefully each year, it is the budget – because this is the way in which the government expresses its real priorities.  Even if the Parliament passes Bills on any subject – right to education, right to health, right to food, etc. – a good measure of the true willingness of the government to implement any of this can be seen by how much money it is willing to allocate to make things a reality.

Former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha spoke about the budget process (Times of India, Feb 27th) and has argued that the current process in India is archaic and is in urgent need of an overhaul.  He also points that Parliament has little power to change anything in the budget, and argues that this undermines the principles of our Parliamentary democracy.  We agree.

On our part, we have produced two documents to help readers understand the budget process better.  How to read the union budget and the Union Budget process can both be accessed from our website.  And we would greatly appreciate your comments on this and other posts on our blog.

A CRS Report on Parliamentary Questions

Unlike the Parliamentary system, the concept of 'question hour' or 'question time' doesn't really exist in the American legislature.  Here's an interesting report done by the Congressional Research Service on the possibility of a question time in the US. From our point of view, the report is interesting because it reviews the existing provisions for a Parliamentary Question Time  in different countries (India isn't mentioned), and considers the pros and cons of such a system. The report concludes: "Whether the question period would be successful in a system of separated powers depends in large part on the attitude of its participants and on the format the question period ultimately assumes. The question period has the potential of involving more rank-and-file Members in the policy-making process, and improving the means of communication between executive departments and the Congress. It also could harden relations between the Congress and the Executive, and might increase the level of partisan controversy in Congress." There's even an online petition among a few american bloggers to push for a question time in the US.  Read about it here. In this country of course, parliamentary questions are an established feature of the work of Parliament. Parliamentary questions cover a huge range of topics and can be an mine of information and data about government policy. The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha sites put the complete text of all parliamentary questions (and the responses to them) online.

Defections in Parliament

In the late 1960s and 70s, defections (elected legislators changing parties after the election) in Parliament and State Legislatures became very frequent, so frequent in fact, that the epithet "Aaya Ram Gaya Ram" was coined to describe the same.  To curb this problem which created instability in our legislatures, Parliament amended the Constitution.  They inserted the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution "to curb the evil of political defections".  As a result, we currently have an anti-defection law with the following features: 1.  If an MP/MLA who belongs to a political party voluntarily resigns from his party or, disobeys the party "whip" (a direction given by the party to all MPs/ MLAs to vote in a certain manner), he is disqualified.   The party may however condone the MP/ MLA within 15 days. 2.  An independent MP/ MLA cannot join a political party after the election. 3.  An MP/ MLA who is nominated (to the Rajya Sabha or upper houses in state legislatures) can only join a party within 6 months of his election. 4.  Mergers of well-defined groups of individuals or political parties are exempted from disqualification if certain conditions are met. 5.  The decision to disqualify is taken by the Speaker/ Chairman of the House. The table below summarizes provisions of anti-defection law in some other countries.  (For more, click here).  As one may note, a number of developed countries do not have any law to regulate defection.

Regulation of defection in some countries

Country Experi-ence Law on defection The Law on Defection
Bangladesh Yes Yes The Constitution says a member shall vacate his seat if he resigns from or votes against the directions given by his party.  The dispute is referred by the Speaker to the Election Commission.
Kenya Yes Yes The Constitution states that a member who resigns from his party has to vacate his seat.  The decision is by the Speaker, and the member may appeal to the High Court.
Singapore Yes Yes Constitution says a member must vacate his seat if he resigns, or is expelled from his party.  Article 48 states that Parliament decides on any question relating to the disqualification of a member.
South Africa Yes Yes The Constitution provides that a member loses membership of the Parliament if he ceases to be a member of the party that nominated him.
Australia Yes No  
Canada Yes No  
France Yes No  
Germany Yes No  
Malaysia Yes No  
United Kingdom Yes No