ET-PRS Analysis

Work is Worship, But Only Outside Parliament

HISTORIC LOW With only 163 bills passed so far, current Lok Sabha is the worst performer


The penultimate session of the 15th Lok Sabha ended two days ahead of schedule, with only one Bill – the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill – passed in the session. The last session is expected to be short and at most pass a few bills. Effectively, the 15th Lok Sabha has concluded most of its business.
Here’s the key fact of the 15th Lok Sabha – it represents the worst period of India’s 60-odd years of parliamentary history. No Lok Sabha since Independence that ran its term has performed worse. Each of the first three Lok Sabhas from 1952 to 1967 sat for over 600 days and for over 3,700 hours. With a 7-10 day short interim-budget session remaining, the current Lok Sabha has met for just 345 days. And much of even the short schedules were affected by disruptions: over 35% of the scheduled time was lost. The 15th Lok Sabha has put in just 1,335 hours till now, which is less than 40% of the average time logged by the first three Lok Sabhas.
As a result, parliamentary activity suffered in several ways. The current Lok Sabha has passed just 163 bills, the lowest ever. Contrast this with the first three, which passed 330 on average, or even the 13th and 14th Lok Sabhas, which passed 297 and 248 bills, respectively. As of now, 126 Bills are awaiting parliamentary approval.
These include important bills across sectors: education, health, agriculture, insurance, commodity markets, direct taxes, goods and services tax, reservation for women in all three levels of representative bodies, anti-corruption and service delivery, microfinance etc.
Each day of Parliament starts with the Question Hour, which provides MPs with the opportunity of holding the government accountable for its policies and actions by asking Questions to ministers. During the 15th Lok Sabha, 60% of the time s c h e d u l e d f o r Question Hour was lost, and only 10% of the starred questions were answered orally.
Another key role of Parliament is to allocate the government’s financial resources through the budgetary process. Over 95% of the expenditure budget has been passed without discussion in the five budgets since 2009. This year, the entire expenditure was granted without any debate.What led to such a poor record? There are some fundamental design issues. Parliament sessions are held as per the convenience of the government of the day. Whenever it could be cornered on an issue, it has an incentive to postpone sessions or hold short duration sessions. During the session, the agenda for discussion is decided by consensus across political parties.
This implies the government holds a veto on what may be discussed, and on whether there would be a vote. The low number of working days and hours coupled with the government’s ability to avoid uncomfortable questions means that opposition parties have limited scope for raising issues. They resort to disruptions and hold the house to ransom until their concerns have been addressed.
Given the number of regional parties, each with its own set of priorities, such disruptions have increased. This pattern is unlikely to change in the near future unless parliamentary procedures are changed to allow more scope for dissenters. Some commentators such as Jay Panda have suggested changes in rules and removal of the whip system to encourage active debate and deliberation. Until then, we have to keep our fingers crossed, and hope that political parties and MPs act in a more constructive manner.
(Author is president, PRS)

In the last 40 years of my association with Parliament, I can say this Lok Sabha has most disappointed the country. Opposition has disrupted…but sometimes, government itself does not seem interested…
Even by the already low levels of productive works in Parliament, the 15th Lok Sabha has proved to be touching dismal levels. Unless drastic actions are taken things will only get worse
No doubt the 15th Lok Sabha has been one of the most unproductive ones. It is the collective responsibility of all floor leaders to ensure their members follow rules. The decline is a real challenge to our democracy