Parliament disruptions: A negation of democracy?
In 2012 only 61 per cent of available time was used for parliamentary work in the Lok Sabha and 66 per cent in the Rajya Sabha.
New Delhi: Daily disruptions and ruckus inside Parliament - that Vice President Hamid Ansari said has been described as "competitive hooliganism" - have become routine and both the government and opposition blame each other for it, but experts say it is a negation of democracy and probably a way to get media coverage.
"The way parliament has been functioning, it is a total negation of democracy," Jagdeep Chhokar, a retired IIM-Ahmedabad professor and founder-member of the National Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms said.
"Democracy is being negated by the people citizens have elected and this is the anti-thesis of democracy," he added.
In 2012, Parliament proceedings were marred by disruptions over a wide range of issues, notably the CAG report on coal allocation and FDI in retail, says data complied by thinktank PRS Legislative Research. Only 61 per cent of available time was used for parliamentary work in the Lok Sabha and 66 per cent in the Rajya Sabha. The government had listed 94 bills for consideration and passing (some repeatedly) across the three sessions of parliament. By the end of the winter session, only 22 bills were passed.
More than half-way through the 15th Lok Sabha, productive time is at 70 per cent - significantly lower than the previous Lok Sabha. The first half of the budget session in 2013 was also marred by protests over issues like the situation of Sri Lankan Tamils, and comments of Congress Minister Beni Prasad Verma against Samajwadi Party Chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.
The disruptions resulted in lesser time for transacting business and the Rajya Sabha passed the appropriation bill, which is a finance bill, without a debate. Vice President and Rajya Sabha Chairman, in an all party meeting on Sunday, even suggested amending the rules to suspend members who display unruly behaviour in the houses. However, his suggestions were not accepted by political parties.
"When the Rajya Sabha chairman made the suggestion why didn't political parties agree," Chhokar wondered.
Praveen Rai, academic secretary at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said disruptions were aimed at grabbing media attention. "Disruptions are an easy way to get media coverage. Our parliamentarians don't want to go to the in-depth of issues, they are not very interested in debating legislation. Disruptions come as an easy way to get attention," he said.
Rajya Sabha chairperson Ansari had also suggested that live telecast of the question hour should be stopped to avoid its disruption. The average Indian is not taking all this kindly. Rajni Shastri, a BA second year student of Delhi University, says it's "open loot of public money".
"What can it be called but an open loot of public money? They (MPs) go there and do nothing," she said.
A government employee working with the health ministry, who did not want to be named, said "It is a very sad reflection on the way our polity is being shaped up. This is the time when our democracy is maturing, and this is what we find. Crony capitalism, and corruption is what is reflected in parliament."
An e-mail message doing the rounds calls for stopping the pension of MPs and not allowing them to raise their salaries. "Parliamentarians should purchase their own retirement plans, just as all Indians do... Parliamentarians should no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Their pay should be linked to the CPI (consumer price index) or 3 per cent, whichever is lower," reads the e-mail message, which is being widely circulated.
"Serving in parliament is an honour, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work," the e-mail adds. Rai said that electoral reforms are needed to check this situation. "Electoral reforms are needed, and we need to choose better candidates if we want this situation to change," he said.