With some justification, the social media is live with suggestions that MPs in the Indian Parliament should be subjected to no-work no-pay rule like the rest of the country. The functioning of Parliament touched a new low with the washout of the proceedings during the just concluded budget session due to unprecedented pandemonium in the two Houses. It was one of the least productive of the sessions with Lok Sabha spending just one per cent and Rajya Sabha merely six per cent of allotted time on legislative business.
Over the years there has been a sharp decline in both the productivity and the quality of debate in Parliament. The emphasis appears to be more on dramatics and disruption rather than on participation in a discussion and coming out with suggestions. The decline has been all the more steep since the introduction of live TV coverage of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha proceedings.
In the just concluded session, for instance, Lok Sabha spent just 19 minutes on legislative business and although it had 29 sittings, it functioned for only 34 hours and passed just five bills. The time lost due to disruptions was 127 hours. Similarly the Upper House functioned for a little over 44 hours while 121 hours were wasted due to disruptions.
Shockingly the finance bill or the All-important budget and related bills were passed without any debate and just two of the eight planned bills were introduced. Estimates at the total loss caused by disruptions vary from Rs 700 crore to Rs 1000 crore but the loss in terms of quality debates and discussions is difficult to gauge. It begs the question whether democracy is served well in this way.
While Parliamentarians made a spectacle of themselves, the nation watched their performance with growing anger and frustration. The announcement on behalf of BJP MPs that they would forego their salaries for the session was a poor attempt to gain political mileage. Similar kind of ruckus was created by the BJP MPs when they were in opposition. Thus the blame for the poor performance in Parliament must be shared by all political parties across the spectrum.
The anger and disgust among the common people is being expressed in social media with jibes at politicians and demand for making Parliamentarians to pay for rather than get paid for their performance. The demand is that the principle of no-work, no-pay should be implemented in the case of MPs and MLAs too. It is pointed out that the elected representatives frequently approve increase in their pay and perk but deliver little by way of participating in quality debates. They enjoy all kind of perks like exemptions in income tax payments, free travel by air and public transport, highly subsidised canteens and liberal allowances.
The mainstream media, unfortunately, has not been taking up the issue in all seriousness. The electronic media is more or less a replay of the slanging matches in Parliament with spokespersons of various parties shouting down each other on predictable lines. Even the print media has not been taking a serious view and has not been initiating any debate on how the situation can be improved.
There is, unfortunately, no system of recall of the elected representatives and generally the public has little option to chose from. The politicians have a knack at diverting issues and raking up controversies where none exist. The level of debate has also degenerated outside with senior leaders using insulting and derogatory words against each other. The latest is the imagery of animals used by the BJP chief Amit Shah against Congress and other opposition parties.
But all political parties need to realise that the antics by elected representatives inside and outside Parliament and Assemblies are generating frustration among people who queue up to vote for them. Their primary responsibility is to discuss and debate public issues and make laws.
In the latest instance while Congress, AIDMK and TDP must share blame for consistently disrupting the proceedings, even the ruling party’s floor managers made little attempt to resolve the issues. The practice in the past had been that the Parliamentary Affairs minister takes the initiative to reach out to the opposition and agree on a basic framework for letting Parliament function. Whether it was deliberately not done or it was the failure of a particular person is not hard to guess. The plea of the opposition may as well be true that the government was not keen to face questions and deliberately lets the ruckus to continue.
The elected representatives and political parties must realise the loss they are inflicting on the country and the people. They must sit together and come to an understanding on how to let the Houses work and how to contribute to the debates. They should go through the archives maintained in Parliament library and learn from the high quality of debates and respect shown to political rivals in the early years of the country’s independence. Time is running out for them.