New Delhi: Yet one more parliament session is set to go the way of the previous ones — more noise and fury, less work and legislation, its primary business.
The first two days of the winter session last week have seen parties forcing adjournments on various issues. Will there be early normalcy and better use of taxpayers’ money, people ask.
Voices are growing for greater accountability of elected representatives, including suggestions of “no work, no pay”. But it naturally does not appear to have many takers among MPs.
The session started on November 22 amid demands by the Bharatiya Janata Party and Left for discussion and voting on the government decision to allow foreign investment in multi brand retail.
The political wrangling on the issue of FDI in retail remained unresolved though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached out to senior BJP leaders over dinner.
The previous monsoon session of parliament had seen successive disruptions due to the BJP’s demand for the prime minister’s resignation and cancellation of coal blocks.
According to PRS Legislative Research, a research initiative that tracks working of parliament, only 17 per cent of parliament’s productive time has been spent on bills in the 15th Lok Sabha.
“Frequent disruptions in the last few sessions have meant lesser time for discussing and passing bills. In the monsoon session earlier this year, only four of the 30 bills listed for passing were able to get parliament’s approval.
“While the monsoon session was disrupted for nearly 80 per cent of scheduled time, it has been seen that even when parliament functions, the bulk of its time is spent on non-legislative business,” Devika Malik of PRS Legislative Research, told IANS.
A rough estimate says that each hour of parliament’s functioning costs Rs2.5 million (Dh165,310) to the national exchequer.
Political analyst George Mathew said frequent disruptions send bad messages to the people.
He said that the MPs had their rights but also responsibility towards the people and that the protest by the opposition should be symbolic.
“How much energy, time and money is wasted due to disruptions. They [the MPs] have a responsibility towards India’s people,” Mathew told IANS.
Mathew, who is chairman of the Institute of Social Sciences, said he was not against the principle of no work, no pay for MPs as taxpayers’ money is used in running parliament. “Some checks and balances are needed,” he said.
Subash Chandra Agrawal, an RTI activist, said frequent disruptions were a huge wastage of taxpayers’ money.
“The rules should be made strict for those who come near the podium of the house,” Agrawal said.
Former Lok Sabha secretary general Subash C. Kashyap said a reason for disruptions was the “weak and unstable” nature of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
“The government is staying in power because of outside support and these parties keep asking for their pound of flesh. The government is not in a position to risk frequent voting,” Kashyap told IANS.
Kashyap said “no work, no pay” was not a practical solution to frequent disruptions and fundamental changes have to be made.
“A majority of members in the present Lok Sabha have been elected by minority of votes. The winning candidate should have at least 50 per cent plus one vote.”
The government has listed 25 bills for passing in the winter session.
BJP leader Nirmala Sitharaman said the government had the responsibility of running the house and its “adamancy” caused disruptions.
Congress spokesperson Raashid Alvi said the stalemate in parliament was caused by intransigence of the opposition.
Both Alvi and Sitharaman, however, agreed that disruptions sent a “wrong” message to the people.
Alvi said the principle of “no work, no pay” cannot be applied across the board as normally a few MPs disrupt the proceedings.
“It may be possible to cut salaries of MPs who go near the podium of presiding officers to raise their issues,” he said.
Communist Party of India Marxist leader Nilotpal Basu said the issue of no work, no pay cannot be discussed without understanding constraints of parliament functioning.