Decline of Parliament

Representation image [Photo: Twitter/@ANI]

Robust institutions are the bedrock of a nation; the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary working in tandem, make the country strong. However, importance of the Legislature is much more than that of the Executive and Judiciary, because the Legislature reflects the will of the people.

As our democracy matured, one could have expected political institutions to gain strength, but, unfortunately, the effectiveness and prestige of Parliament has progressively declined. Many deleterious trends have contributed to this unhappy situation, but the worst is the recent trend of persistent disruptions, conflict and discord in Parliamentary functioning.

The almost complete washout of Budget Session 2023, with Union Budget 2023 being passed without discussion, is the latest in a series of similar fiascos. The script is almost identical ~ the opposition latches on to some issue, discussion on which is not allowed by the Speaker, which is sufficient to trigger pandemonium in the house.


Thereafter, Bills are hurriedly passed without discussion, and once legislative business is complete, Parliament is prorogued, often before schedule. A novel feature of Budget Session 2023 was disruption of parliamentary proceedings by treasury benches ~ who were equally responsible for the washout.

Paying tribute to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, on his birth anniversary (Good Governance Day, 25 December 2021), the then Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu observed that good governance needed good legislatures to oversee the performance of the executive.

Mr Naidu lamented that in a serious abdication of its responsibility, the Rajya Sabha had lost about 61 per cent of Question Hour time in the just concluded Winter Session, on account of disruptions. Sadly, disruptions have marred most of the subsequent sessions of Parliament, as well.

Lack of discussion in Parliament has ensured that many Bills, some with controversial provisions, have sailed through without being fully debated; the Opposition felt that it had done its duty by walk-outs and protests. But public-spirited citizens have felt short changed; neither House finds time to discuss pressing concerns of the common man e.g., roaring inflation, rising inequality, rising unemployment, Chinese aggression, women’s safety etc.

Laws enacted without adequate discussion, often return to haunt their makers; the highly contentious Farming Acts, passed without sufficient debate, led to protracted protests, and had to be repealed within fifteen months. Unfortunately, the Farming Acts were repealed without discussion, depriving citizens of a chance to know why these Acts, touted as a panacea for farming sector ills, had suddenly lost their glitter.

Taking the trend of thoughtless legislation further, State legislatures are now enacting laws circumscribing personal choice in matters of food, drink, marriage and religion, which bring individuals in conflict with the State; many recent laws prescribe long prison sentences ~ up to life imprisonment for alcohol consumption, cow slaughter and consumption of beef.

A former Chief Justice of India had pointed out that laws that had not been thought through had led to unnecessary litigation. The CJI had made these remarks in context of an amendment in the Negotiable Instruments Act, that had led to a pendency of 60 lakh cases. Similarly, imposition of prohibition in States like Bihar has led to preoccupation of the police with prohibition offences, to the exclusion of more serious crimes.

Moreover, prohibition offences have mired lower courts in a flood of litigation. Statistics reveal that progressively, Parliament is sitting for fewer and fewer days, with more and more time being wasted by disruptions. Between 1952 and 1972 the Lok Sabha sat, on an average, for 120 days in a year, which came down to 63 in the Fifteenth Lok Sabha (2009-2014) and 66 in the Sixteenth Lok Sabha (2014 to 2019). The Seventeenth Lok Sabha sat for 230 days since its inception in 2019; an average of 58 days per year, which is the lowest in Parliamentary history.

Productivity, i.e., the number of hours the Lok Sabha actually functioned compared to the number of hours officially earmarked for work was more than 100 per cent till the Twelfth Lok Sabha, declining to 91 per cent in the Thirteenth Lok Sabha, 87 per cent in the Fourteenth Lok Sabha, touching a nadir of 61% in the Fifteenth Lok Sabha, before improving slightly for the Sixteenth Lok Sabha.

The recently concluded Budget Session of the Seventeenth Lok Sabha was truly noteworthy, as the Lok Sabha functioned for only 33 per cent of its scheduled time (46 hours) and Rajya Sabha for 24 per cent (32 hours). Significantly, in the 15 days of the second part of the Budget Session, Lok Sabha worked for 5 per cent and Rajya Sabha for 6 per cent of scheduled time. State Legislatures fare even worse in terms of number of days worked; most State legislatures work only for 30 to 40 days in a year, with some honourable exceptions like the Kerala Legislative Assembly that sits for an average 150 days in a year.

Compared to legislative bodies in other parts of the world, our legislators are an underworked lot; the British Parliament sits for an average of 150 days, while the US Congress clocks more than 100 days each year. The attendance of members during crucial discussions is not up to the mark; PM Modi had warned his party MPs about their laxity. Justifying protracted disruptions of Parliament by his party MPs during UPA times, Arun Jaitley, former Finance Minister and leader of the Rajya Sabha (2014- 19) propounded the deleterious doctrine: “Parliament’s job is to conduct discussions.

But many a time, Parliament is used to ignore issues, and in such situations, obstruction of Parliament is in the favour of democracy. Therefore, parliamentary obstruction is not undemocratic,” which the Opposition throws back at the ruling party whenever it is accused of obstructing Parliamentary proceedings. Since winnability is often the only criteria for candidate selection, many-a-times persons with doubtful credentials are fielded by political parties, lowering their image and moral authority.

Due to political support, sometimes, mafiosi and such undesirable characters make it to State legislatures, and even the Lok Sabha. A prime example is the don, recently murdered in police custody, who was a five-time MLA and a one term MP. This is not an isolated instance, criminality amongst MPs has reached alarming levels; 233 Lok Sabha MPs (43 per cent) face criminal charges, with nearly 29 per cent being charged with serious crimes like rape, murder, attempt to murder or crimes against women. One BJP MP faces terror charges and a Congress MP has 240 criminal cases against him.

Disturbingly, the number of MPs charged with serious crimes has risen by 109 per cent since 2009. A former Chief Election Commissioner had described elections as ‘the dance of democracy,’ but unfortunately, now, money and muscle power seem to call the tune.

The increasing use of illicit funds during elections can be gauged from the fact that within 11 days of announcement of the Karnataka elections, cash and materials worth Rs108.78 crore (Rs 170 crore as on 16 April) had been seized ~ almost 4.4 times of the seizure in the corresponding period during the 2018 elections.

Similar use of money power was noticed in all elections; a Press Note titled “Record seizures made during ongoing Assembly Elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh,” issued by the Election Commission on 10 November 2022, stated that seizures of Rs.71.88 crore had been made ‘in just few days of announcement of elections,’ which was almost three times of the seizure (Rs 27.21 crore) during the entire 2017 Gujarat Assembly Elections.

Similarly, seizures of Rs 50.28 crore had been made in Himachal Pradesh, which were almost five and a half times of the seizure (Rs.9.03 crore), during the 2017 elections. Small fries are punished for ferrying cash, liquor etc. but effective action like disqualification of the candidate or deregistration of the political party, is never taken against political parties and candidates, at whose behest the electoral laws were broken.

Lastly, rapacity of legislators has proved to be the bane of Indian polity; defectors have decided the fate of many Governments. Like business executives who switch companies for better pay and perks, politicians of today do not mind changing parties for ‘better prospects’ ~ damaging the foundation of Parliamentary democracy, in the process. Anti-defection laws have not deterred defectors; few defectors, if any, have been punished for their misdeeds. Frederick Lewis Donaldson had said: “The Seven Social Sins are: Wealth without work. Pleasure without conscience. Knowledge without character. Commerce without morality.

Science without humanity. Worship without sacrifice. Politics without principle.” (Westminster Abbey, London, 20 March 1925) We are guilty of all seven sins, particularly the last one

(The writer is a retired Principal Chief Commissioner of Income-Tax)