Parliament is being undermined even when it is not in session. There is enough evidence, from records of official debates to live telecasts and statistics, to show how this sacred institution is being subverted.
Shockingly, Parliament sits for less than 100 days in a year. Rajya Sabha last sat for more days than that way back in 1974.
The number of sittings per year for Lok Sabha has reduced from an average of 121 days (1952-1970) to 68 days since 2000. (I had introduced a Private Member’s Bill in 2019 to amend the constitution to provide for a fixed calendar for the three sessions of parliament and a minimum 100 days of sittings a year for each House.)
Even between sessions, parliamentary standing committees meet year-round to discuss and deliberate on important issues. These committees (there are 31 MPs in each committee) are supposed to suggest improvements for the working of ministries and scrutinise legislation.
But rules and precedents are being junked in parliamentary committees just as much as on the floor of parliament.
Let me share recent examples.
Party slogans in ministry presentations
As reported in the media, at a recent meeting of the Home Ministry Standing Committee, the Ministry of Development of the North Eastern Region (DoNER) made a power-point presentation outlining its objectives.
The slogan “Sab ka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, Sabka Prayas” crept into the presentation. So much for being apolitical.
The same slogan, “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” was first used by the BJP on the cover of its election manifesto in 2014.
There is a thin, but very important, line between the government and a political party, and it is not proper to breach it.
Why Committees are crucial
Parliamentary committees have been functioning for the last 30 years. With the addition of seven more committees in 2004, the number of department-related parliamentary standing committees was raised to 24, of which eight were placed in the jurisdiction of the Chairman, Rajya Sabha, and 16 under the Speaker, Lok Sabha. Each committee has 10 MPs from Rajya Sabha and 21 MPs from Lok Sabha.
Opposition removed from Parliamentary Chairpersonships
Since their formation, it had been customary to allot the leadership of at least half the committees, including the ‘heavyweight ones’, to senior Opposition members. But when the committees were recently reconstituted, several Opposition MPs were dropped as chairpersons. The Congress was given short shrift and removed as Chair of important committees like Home Affairs and Information Technology (IT).
The Trinamool Congress, the second largest Opposition party in parliament, which had two chairpersonships till 2019 and one till last year, were not assigned a single chairpersonship.
The chair of six major parliamentary committees – Home, IT, Defence, External Affairs, Finance, and Health – are all with the BJP or its allies.
No discussion Allowed on Centre-State relations
According to the Parliamentary Bulletin published on October 21, an important issue like Centre-state relations did not find a place on the agenda for the parliamentary standing committee on Home Affairs. This development is even more unfortunate as there had apparently been a broad agreement (duly recorded) at the last meeting of the outgoing committee headed by Congress’s Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
The MPs had reached a consensus that Centre-State relations would be one of the subjects the Home Ministry committee would take up. Federalism is, after all, at the heart of Indian democracy. But not only was the chairperson (Congress) replaced by one from the ruling party, the subject was not among the six issues to be taken up by the committee in 2022-23.
So, what are the six subjects that the Home Ministry panel will discuss? The bulletin reveals they are prison reforms, border management, disaster management, functioning of Union Territories, implementing projects in Northeastern states and India’s preparedness for challenges to internal security. No Centre-state relations.
The recommendations of a standing committee are not binding on the government. But to be not allowed to even discuss a subject is inexplicable. The Union government is destroying the federal structure. Is that why they are even afraid to discuss Centre-state relations?
Postscript: On October 5, the Trinamool was the only party to pay floral tributes to Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, an icon of Bengal and India, on his birth anniversary, in the Central Hall of parliament. No Lok Sabha Speaker, no Rajya Sabha Chairman, no Minister, no BJP MP, no Secretary General. No one.
Parliament is not just new buildings; it is also old traditions.
[This article appeared on NDTV.com | Wednesday, November 7, 2022]