By Ranjana Narayan
New Delhi: As another parliament session nears its end marred by continuous holdups and with little work done, the 15th Lok Sabha will go down as one that has lost over a quarter of its time to disruptions.
With around 100 bills pending before parliament, including some over 20 years old, there is very little chance of the 15th Lok Sabha, whose term ends in less than two years, getting much work done.
For more than a week parliament has witnessed Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members holding up proceedings demanding Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s resignation over the government auditor’s report alleging irregularities in coal block allocations. Chants of “Pradhan mantri isteefa do” (prime minister step down) drown all proceedings.
In the earlier Lok Sabhas, even the ones that were short-lived, much stress was given to participation and debate on bills, according to data provided by PRS Legislative Research, a research body on the parliamentary system.
The troubled 9th Lok Sabha (1989-91), which lasted just 16 months and saw two prime ministers –V.P. Singh heading a National Front regime and Chandra Shekhar forming a government with Congress support — saw parliament sitting for more than its scheduled hours. It sat for 754 hours, more than the scheduled 654 hours, and passed 63 bills.
An equally teetering 11th Lok Sabha (1996-97) which saw three prime ministers in two years — BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee lasting for 13 days, Janata Dal leader Deve Gowda heading a United Front coalition government for 18 months and I.K. Gujral — was a hard-working one. The members sat for 813 hours — beyond their scheduled time of 750 hours — and passed 61 bills.
The 12thLok Sabha (1998-99), which lasted just 13 months with Vajpayee heading a BJP-led coalition, fared quite admirably too. It sat for more time than it was supposed to — 574 hours as against the scheduled 528 hours — in its short span and passed 56 bills.
According to M.R. Madhavan of PRS Legislative Research, the legislative work done by parliament has seen a steady decline over the years. “The overall work done has been decreasing steadily. Compared to the 120-140 days that Parliament used to meet in the 1950s and 1960s, it is now meeting for 60-70 days a year,” Madhavan told IANS.
“Further, even this reduced schedule is not effective as much time is lost to disruptions. The current Lok Sabha has lost over a quarter of its scheduled time till now. The result is a combination of a long list of bills that await deliberation (over 100 now), and bills being passed without discussion (for example the AIIMS Bill was passed within a couple of minutes on Thursday),” he said.
Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Zoya Hasan says the “continuous and persistent disruption of parliament is wrong, even though the issue of corruption is extremely important.”
Hasan, who is Professor and Dean, School of Social Sciences at JNU, told IANS: “The government is accountable to parliament and not to just one party. But the BJP is behaving as if it has to be accountable to it”.
“This (stalling parliament) is wrong; it is a very serious issue and this is going to add to the already growing distrust of politicians and parliament. This has gone on too far.”
The 14h Lok Sabha (2004-09 — when UPA-I was in government) sat for 1,736 hours, or 87 percent of its scheduled time and passed 248 bills. The 13th Lok Sabha (1999-2004 — during the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance rule), sat for over 1,940 hours, or 91 percent of its time, and passed 297bills.
The 15th Lok Sabha has sat for 73 percent of its scheduled time so far and passed 125 bills.
Devika Malik of PRS said : “In the 10 sessions since the beginning of the 15th Lok Sabha, it has been seen that parliament manages to pass an average of 10 bills in any session and introduce about 15 new bills. This means a considerable backlog. ‘
“Even if parliament was to function efficiently in the remaining sessions of the 15th Lok Sabha, it is likely that the time spent on discussing each bill will be compromised. So far, in the current term of parliament, 19 percent of bills that were passed were in under five minutes of debate on the floor of the house.”
D. Raja, Communist Party of India (CPI) leader, said the furore was more this time because “there are more number of scams, huge scams” and corruption has become a major issue.
Raja told IANS: “The Left and national parties are saying that parliament should be allowed to function, and the Congress and the BJP should allow meaningful discussion.” But he alleged that both the parties had an “unwritten understanding not to let parliament function.”