Parliament losing relevance


Many Indians have been saying for years that the Parliament is fast losing its relevance; one needs only look at the performance, or the lack of it,...

Many Indians have been saying for years that the Parliament is fast losing its relevance; one needs only look at the performance, or the lack of it, in the current session of both Houses to understand why. The Lok Sabha has lost 88% of its sitting time to adjournments; not one of the seven Bills introduced has been passed, forcing the Government to extend the monsoon session. It has spent only 38 minutes on legislation and 50 minutes on question hour during 12 sittings till Aug.22.

The record of the Rajya Sabha is slightly better: Out of 10 Bills introduced, seven have been passed till August 22. It is revealing that the 52.58 hours lost over 10 sittings of the Lok Sabha far exceed those lost during the monsoon sessions in 2010 and 2011. In the former year 45 hours had been thus lost and in the latter 51.06 hours were wasted. All this has come from the data compiled by PRS Legislative Research. Is this data not likely to put off voters in the 2014 parliamentary elections? They may well ask what tangible purpose is being served by maintaining the Parliament where little or no business is transacted.

That leads to the suspicion that elections are only a charade that serves no purpose. Yet the same parliamentarians are trying desperately to save themselves and their tribe. For instance, the Centre, with the full approval of MPs from all parties, has filed a review petition in the Supreme Court seeking a relook at its two recent landmark verdicts: On disqualification of MPs and MLAs on their being convicted; and on the debarring of arrested persons from contesting elections. The Centre has contended that the two-judge Bench had “erred” by pronouncing the verdict on a constitutional issue, and that both issues must be heard by a Constitution Bench. The other arguments advanced by the Centre are equally ludicrous. First, failure to refer the petitions for hearing by the Constitution Bench would militate against the jurisdiction; second, protection of convicted MPs and MLAs from disqualification during pendency of their appeals is necessary “to protect the House” and to ensure that governance is not adversely impacted.

To national jubilation, the apex court had on July 10 held that an MP or an MLA convicted of any criminal offence attracting a punishment of two years and above shall stand disqualified immediately, and a person who is in jail or in police custody cannot contest election to legislative bodies. The Supreme Court bench had also declared unconstitutional a provision in the Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act which says that a convicted legislator can continue in office if he/she appeals to a higher court within three months of the conviction.
The Centre’s most implausible argument was perhaps that with the Constitution “not having specified” when a person would become disqualified, Parliament was competent to legislate on that issue and define when such a disqualification would take place. Finally, the Centre let the cat out of the bag when it argued that “this court failed to appreciate that Article 102(1) (e) (disqualification of MPs) of the Constitution provides for ‘distinct treatment’ for Members of Parliament.” The implication was that MPs are more equal than others!
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