The Parliament is a crucial organ of the government and for the betterment of the country, it is responsible for proper scrutiny of matters. Thus, there is a need for it to adopt remote working and technological solutions, as several other countries have adjusted to in the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges for the Parliament to function but the ruling party needs to find a way around that. The matter of shortened duration of the Parliament for quite some time now is becoming something of grave concern. The question we need to ask and the government needs to answer is — will shortened duration of Parliament be detrimental to the country?
The Constitutional mandate to fulfil the proper functioning of the Parliament has to be kept in mind at all times. However, it doesn’t look that way right now. The Budget session of the Parliament ended at least 14 days ahead of the original plan, as most political leaders in our country are busy campaigning for the upcoming State Assembly elections, which have already begun in a few states. Last year too it was seen that sessions of the Parliament were hampered because of the Coronavirus pandemic. The fiscal year 2020-21 saw the Lok Sabha sitting for a meagre number of 34 days (and the Rajya Sabha for 33), the lowest ever in the country’s history so far. This cannot be happening and it brings us back to our major concern — whether shortened duration of the Parliament is detrimental to the country and the constitutional mandate.
The major impact of the less time spent at the Parliament has been observed on the quick passage of bills. It is also resulting in a lack of careful scrutiny. In September last year, the Parliament witnessed the passing of several Bills despite the Opposition clearly being against it in both the Houses. The Rajya Sabha, in a matter of three and half hours, passed as many as seven key Bills, including one that removes cereals, pulses and onion from the essential commodities list and another that abolishes penalty for certain offences by companies. Similarly, the Lower House recorded the passing of at least four Bills, including the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020, the Industrial Relations Code, 2020 and the Code on Social Security, 2020 and the Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill 2020, as per reports. Most of the Opposition, including the Congress, Left, Trinamool Congress, SP and NCP had boycotted House proceedings in protest against the suspension of eight MPs.
While members from the BJP, JD-U, AIADMK, BJD, YSRC and TDP, which anyway support the ruling party took part in the passing of the bills. Does that sound fair? Not precisely. It was also said that for most of the bills in both the Houses, the member participation was less than usual, and the minister also replied for shorter durations than what is done typically. This phenomenon also points to a recurring issue in the Parliament or in our country since a majority party set the government in the Centre. While the BJP enjoyed a complete majority since the 2014 elections, it has somehow turned out to be a major bummer for the passage of laws, the concern of shortened duration at the Parliament as a result. What a few experts have said is that when a majority party is deciding these things it tends to go their way and a bill is passed as it garners a majority in the Houses, thus ultimately creating the results in their favour. Earlier, when major coalition governments have been elected to the Centre, a lower number of bills were passed due to a lot of disagreements within the coalition. It would never that easily be a clear majority in such cases.
From this arises the point of the lack of scrutiny in recent times. During the recent session of the Parliament, 13 Bills were introduced and not even a single among them was referred to a parliamentary committee for examination or scrutiny. Several important bills like the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021, for the change in the governance of Delhi and Mines, Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill 2021 to remove end use restrictions on mines and ease conditions for captive mines, National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development (NaBFID) Bill, 2021 — to create a new government infrastructure finance institution and permit private ones in this sector were all passed within a few days. This only shows the lack of scrutiny and the inefficiency in the part of the Parliament whereas it should have performed its duty according to the constitutional mandate.
There has also been an evident decline in the number of bills sent to committees. “The percentage of Bills referred to committees have declined from 60 per cent and 71 per cent in the 14th Lok Sabha (2004-09) and the 15th Lok Sabha, respectively, to 27 per cent in the 16th Lok Sabha and just 11 per cent in the current one,” as per a report by The Hindu.
This further goes on to show that there’s no sanctity of law-making in India in the current times. It has been seen that not all laws receive an equal amount of parliamentary attention. While a few undergo rigorous scrutiny by Parliamentary Committees, others are often passed with just a simple debate on the floor of the House. Also, when a government expresses urgency, even bills amending the constitution can be passed in a matter of two or three days. But what happens then? No proper scrutiny could have a drastic negative impact and incur a major financial cost to the nation. Laws made in a hurry can be half-baked and in turn, be detrimental to the country instead of doing any good. Thus, what we can infer is that it is the duty of the Parliament to function over its mandated duration for the betterment of the nation.