Parliamentary democracy is facing its latest threat. The near-lack of debate, which is the raison d'être of Parliament, has been conspicuous by its absence. The decline in the hours spent in constructive work has been all but missing almost throughout the 15th Lok Sabha.
Unlike the just concluded monsoon session, all the previous sessions during this UPA regime turned out to be unproductive, with disruptions and adjournments stalling majority of the legislative business.
The monsoon session was perhaps the most fruitful for the UPA government, with key bills such as the Food Security Bill, Land Acquisition Bill and Pension Bill getting the Parliament nod. This session too had its share of adjournments and disruptions. Contentious issues like the Telangana, missing coal files, border security issues with Pakistan and China, and the economic crisis provided leverage for the Opposition to attack the government. The clouds were cleared only after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a statement in both houses about the missing coal files.
According to PRS survey, the Lok Sabha lost 42 per cent of the total time while Rajya Sabha lost 20 percent due to adjournments. On 12 days, Lok Sabha sat for less than an hour. Question Hour was conducted for only 13% of the scheduled time in Lok Sabha and 29% in Rajya Sabha. The government was able to get the key bills passed as the sittings were extended by five days in the Lok Sabha and six days in the Rajya Sabha to make up for the loss of time during the first three weeks.
According to official estimates, each hour of running Parliament during sessions would cost the exchequer Rs. 25 lakh. A normal day in Parliament may last upto eight hours and that would mean a loss of Rs 2 crore on a day if no business is transacted.
The survey shows that only two bills were passed in the earlier budget session which also witnessed frequent disruptions over coal scam, Chinese incursion, JPC draft report on 2G and Railway bribery scam. Around 51 per cent of the available time was lost in the Lok Sabha during that session while the Rajya Sabha worked for 52 per cent of the total time.
The CAG report on coal block allocations and the FDI in retail were the major issues which consumed much of the time of the Parliament in 2012, the year which marked the 60th Anniversary of the Indian Parliament. Only 14 per cent of the budget session time was spent on legislation in Lok Sabha and 16 per cent in Rajya Sabha. Around 77 per cent of the Monsoon session was lost as the opposition members targeted the government over the alleged irregularities in the coal block allocations. The government’s decision to allow 51 per cent FDI in the retail sector attracted the opposition ire which also resulted in continues disruptions in both Houses. By the end of the winter Session in that year, the government had managed to pass only 22 Bills.
Corruption was the major issue which stalled the functioning of Parliament in the budget and Monsoon sessions in 2011. Anna Hazare’s anti-graft agitation had its own impact in both houses. FDI in retail and Telangana are among the issues which consumed much of the winter session time of that year.
The Monsoon session in 2010 saw the most number of bills passed during this Lok Sabha with 24 out of 36 bills getting passed while the winter session in the same year witnessed the worst performance with only four out of 35 bills getting the parliament nod. Owing to the 2G scam, the Parliament first time in its history witnessed the complete wash out of a session.
The decline in the number of sitting of both houses began with the Congress losing its ground in the late 1970s and the opposition parties becoming more powerful. According to the PRS research, the Lok Sabha met for an average of 127 days every year in the 1950s and the Rajya Sabha for 93 days. This has decreased to 73 days for both houses in 2011. If the first Lok Sabha had passed an average of 72 bills each year, it has decreased to 40 bills a year in the 15th Lok Sabha. It is also noteworthy that the last two years have not seen any significant financial reforms related bill getting the approval of the government.
Among the Houses that completed five-year terms, the 14th Lok Sabha has the worst record so far as it clocked just 1,737 hours of sittings. The 15th Lok Sabha is no better in terms of performance as official data show that as many as 634 hours were lost on account of interruptions and adjournments until the 12th session. Only 149 out of the total 380 bills got the parliament nod so far. The 5th Lok Sabha, in which the Congress party had 346 members, passed maximum number of bills (482) and had clocked 4,072 hours of sitting.