A Cuckoo bird from the treasury benches whispered into my ear that the NDA/BJP government is planning to increase the size of the Lok Sabha from the current 543 to over a thousand. The sagacious birdie also murmured that even the Council of States may be expanded.
It alluded to the New Parliament building under construction to substantiate the fact that bigger chambers are being fashioned for both the House of People and the Council of States. The new chambers of both the houses will have the capacity to seat as many as 888 Members of Parliament (MPs) in the Lok Sabha and 384 in the Rajya Sabha respectively. However, the Lok Sabha Hall is being designed to hold 1224 members, ostensibly to cater for the possibility of a joint session.
The thinking to expand the size of Parliament isn’t exactly new. In April 2017, Pranab Mukherjee made a strong public pitch for expanding the numerical strength of Parliament.
The then President opined, “The Constitution (Forty Second Amendment) Act 1976 imposed a freeze on the population figure for readjustment at the 1971 census. It has been extended by the Constitution (Eighty-fourth Amendment) Act 2001 till 2026. As a result the House of the People today represents the population figure of 1971 census whereas our population has increased manifold in the recent decades. This gives rise to an anomalous situation wherein today, India has over 800 million voters and 543 Lok Sabha constituencies represent 1.28 billion people.” Nearly 16-18 lakh people are represented by one Lok Sabha member, how can he or she be expected to be in touch with the electors?
The population since then has more than doubled, and there is a “strong case” to remove the freeze on the delimitation exercise. It should be ideally increased to 1,000. “We need to think innovatively and not just resort to excuses without any basis. If the British Parliament can have 650 members, the Canadian Parliament can have 443 members and the US Congress can accommodate 535 members, why can’t the Indian Parliament do so,” he argued passionately.
However, is numbers the only challenge that confronts the Indian Parliament and the legislatures? The answer is no. A serious crisis of credibility confronts Parliament. It has been functioning more as an exception rather than the rule for decades now.
The Changes Parliament Needs
The NDA/BJP set the bar rather low when in a signed article on August 28, 2012 the then Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley argued, “If parliamentary accountability is subverted and a debate is intended to be used merely to put a lid on parliamentary accountability, it is then a legitimate tactic for the Opposition to expose the government through parliamentary instruments available at its command.” “We are not interested in a debate. What is there to debate?” he told Times Now on August 22, 2012. The thrust of his argument being that disruption is a legitimate parliamentary tactic.
These words set the stage for what has followed over the past nine years. Both the government and the Opposition should find a modus vivendi whereby after government business concludes at 6 pm the next three hours everyday must be devoted to discussion on a subject under the relevant rules chosen by the joint opposition. This would ensure that Parliament functions. It would go a long way in restoring its credibility.
The 10th Schedule of the Constitution, also called the Anti Defection Law, must be amended. As I have argued in my Private Member’s Bill, its rigours must be restricted only to those instruments that impact the stability of government namely No-confidence Motion, Adjournment Motion, Money Bill or financial matters. The rest of the legislative space must be freed up. For when the framers of the Indian Constitution selected the universal adult suffrage paradigm, they did not certainly contemplate a system whereby electoral choice would be with an individual elector but legislative power would reside in a political party. MPs and MLAs must be given the freedom to vote according to their conscience, constituency and common sense. Whip-driven tyranny must end.
The institution of the Presiding officers also needs to be revisited. With no disrespect intended to the current Speaker or the Chairperson of the Council of States or their respected predecessors, the time has come to seriously debate whether the presiding officers of both houses should not be serving judges of the Supreme Court on lien from that institution and appointed for five years in case of Lok Sabha and six years for the Rajya Sabha. This would ensure that truly neutral umpires arbitrate the functioning of both houses of Parliament. This should be the norm in the state legislatures too.
The Question of Expansion
Coming to the numerical expansion of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, no purpose would be served in converting it into the National People’s Congress of China. Expanding the size of the Lok Sabha is only a ploy to strengthen the executive and make the legislature redundant. There is a hierarchy institutionalized by the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment topped by the state legislatures to cater to developmental imperatives of the country.
The job of Parliament is to make laws for the nation. Expanding the size of the Lok Sabha would make it even more unwieldy and dysfunctional than what it is now. From a whip-driven paradigm it would turn into a country club with a bloated membership of folks living off taxpayers’ money.
Moreover if the expansion will be based purely on the division of the current 910,515,845 electors into parliamentary constituencies of 7.6 lakh electors per head, the number of Parliamentary constituencies would increase to 1200. The biggest losers in this exercise would be Tamil Nadu whose proportional share in Parliament would reduce from the current 7.2 to 6.4 %, Kerala from 3.7 to 2.9 %, Andhra Pradesh from 4.6 to 4.3% and Odisha from 3.9 to 3.6 %. The share of UP would go up from the current 14.7% to 16%, Bihar 7.4 to 7.8 %, Madhya Pradesh from 5.3 to 5.7% and Maharashtra from 8.8 to 9.7%. This would further exacerbate the North-South divide.
There is however a case for the reform of the Council of States—the Rajya Sabha. For it has for long not fulfilled its primary function of articulating the interests of the States qua the Union. It is just another Federal Second Chamber. To truly become a Council of States it should mirror the US senate with equal number of members directly elected by people representing each state irrespective of the state’s size. That would make India a true Union of States.
The author is a Lawyer, MP and Former Information and Broadcasting Minister. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.
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