NEW DELHI: Former president Pranab Mukherjee today voiced concern over the "diminishing" days for Parliament sessions, and said that House sittings should be increased to ensure better scrutiny of expenditure proposals before they go into the budget.
While delivering the 15th D T Lakdawala Memorial Lecture, he also lamented the disruption created by lawmakers in the House.
In his nearly 70-minute-long speech on 'Parliamentary Democracy and its Challenges Today', Mukherjee took the audience through the journey of the different Acts passed during the days of the British East India Company to the eventual creation of the Republic of India through its Constitution.
"I can claim with all modesty, after spending a large part of career in the Indian parliamentary system, 37 years in total in both the Houses and five years as a President. So, I want to talk about the problems and offer some suggestions for making it (system) better," he said.
The first thing is the diminishing days of session, both in Parliament and state assemblies.
"In the first and second Lok Sabha, the sessions were held for 26 weeks a year, that is nearly half of the year. So, I feel the length of session should be increased.The prime minister has the power to do it in consultation with the Cabinet. "And, if more sessions are held, that would mean more time can be spend by lawmakers on financial discussions," said Mukherjee, who held the President's office from 2012-17.
"From an average of 127 days for Lok Sabha an 93 days for Rajya Sabha in the 1950s, the number of sittings of both the Houses has reduced to an average of about 75 days now," Mukherjee was quoted as saying in a copy of the speech, later distributed by the organiser, the Institute of Social Sciences.
"Even on these days, most of the the time is lost in pointless partisanship and acrimonious blame-game between the treasury and opposition benches," he said.
"What apparently guides the agenda of both the houses of Parliament is one-upmanship on divisive, malicious allegations and counter allegations," he was quoted as saying in the speech.
The former president compared the scale of the first budget and that of Union Budget 2018, saying in the latter a number of demands (expenditure proposals) have been made.
"But, what kind of scrutiny have been done, and how much prior discussion has gone into them," he asked. So, to have a better scrutiny of expenditure proposals, "we need to have more discussion in the House," he said.
The 83-year-old former president also said simultaneous election of Assembly and Parliament would be difficult to hold, even by bringing an amendment in the Constitution.
"Besides, diminishing days, the other issue is the disruption, and, I can tell that disruption can never be an effective way in Parliamentary democracy.
"The dictum was 3D -- debate, dissension and decision, but some people have added an extra 'd', i.e., disruption.Instead of raising issues during a Question Hour and cross-examining a lawmaker, sloganeering wastes time of the House, "Mukherjee lamented, adding, "people must realise that disruption doesn't bring any harm to a government".
J K Governor N N Vohra, who chaired the session at the event held at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, also said their was a "growing concern" about the functioning of Parliament.
"Political parties should hold internal elections and those with criminal records should not be allowed to contest," he said.