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Delhi: City of Ambassadors and politicians (and lawyers)Back when Anna was fasting to death, I was harshly critical of him for holding an elected government hostage. I was firm in my conviction that if you want legislation to be passed, the right way to do it is by communicating your wishes to your elected representative or by getting elected to the legislature yourself.

However, with the example that is being set by the current crop of MPs, it makes one wonder whether the people have any other choice but to seek other solutions like Anna's. The culture of disruptions has become so deep-rooted that in the JPC demand protest struck winter session of 2010, the Parliament functioned for only about 5% of the scheduled time while even in the supposedly normal Monsoon 2011, it only functioned for about 60% of the scheduled time.

Here are some of the solutions suggested to end this culture of disrupting the house...

 

"No Work No Pay"

The basic idea of this concept is very simple. Proponents believe that MPs should not be paid if they aren’t doing their job. Despite the recent claims by Mr. Varun Gandhi and other (relatively) young MPs, the idea of MPs turning down their daily allowances when the working of the parliament is disrupted isn’t really a new one. The idea was proposed by the eminent jurist Mr. Fali Nariman when he was a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha. He tabled ‘The Disruption of Proceedings of Parliament (disentitlement of allowances) Bill 2004', as a private member’s bill.

However, like most such bills, it was never debated.

PROS – Seems fair, as it advocates applying the same rules to the elected representatives as are applied to the other workers.

CONS – Won’t necessarily solve the problem of members disrupting, since most MPs are well off and not dependent on allowances for their livelihood.

 

“Repeal or amend the anti-defection laws"

Today’s governments are secure in the knowledge that they won’t be toppled by their own MPs defecting to other parties because of the articles in the Tenth Schedule of the constitution which disqualify MPs changing parties after being elected or even voting against their party whip. This means that the opposition cannot get its way unless it can split a coalition and hence opposition MPs prefer to disrupt proceedings rather than opposing on the floor of the house. Furthermore, since whips have to be followed anyway, and personal opinions don’t matter, individual MPs are not interested in debating or listening to others.

PROS – MPs will have lesser incentive to disrupt if they feel they can argue and convince others to support their own amendments or convince some government backbenchers to oppose the government’s bills.

CONS – There are many MPs of questionable moral standards. Hence, the possibility of buying MPs’ votes still exist and the “Aaya Ram Gaya Ram” phenomena may just make a comeback.

 

“Change Parliamentary Procedure”

During the initial days of the Indian republic, the optimists of the Nehruvian era conducted themselves rather well. In 1956, the Lok Sabha met for the highest number of days in any year – 151; the Rajya Sabha met for 113 days. On the other hand, today the houses barely meet for 60 odd days each year. Some possible changes that could be implemented to bring standards back to that level are:

  • Throw out the trouble makers – Speakers could get strict and suspend noisy members who are disrupting the business. Today the government doesn’t want to, because the Congress / UPA would like to use the same tactics when in opposition. NDA’s 'boycott P Chidambaram' idea actually came from Congress’ 'boycott Fernandes' campaign.
  • Unlimited sessions – Instead of having scheduled sessions, parliament sessions could be automatically extended as a rule till all legislation scheduled to be debated is actually debated.
  • Reelection ban – Rules could be made indicating that MPs who do not attend a particular percentage of the sittings and MPs who disrupt proceedings by trying to talk out of turn are barred from contesting the elections again.

 

“Opposition Days”

In the British Parliament, 20 days of each session (their typical sessions are longer) are allocated for discussions on topics chosen by the opposition. India could adopt a similar system where the opposition can set the agenda for a fixed number of days per year. The assurance of significant amount of time to raise their concerns may allay the fears of the opposition and convince them to allow the house to debate legislation. However, in India there is the concern than scheduling of opposition time and splitting it between various opposition parties may itself cause strife.

 

Personally, I think that we need a good combination of all these. Allowing opposition days, loosening the anti-defection laws and suspending the most violent legislators could do the trick if implemented together. However, these measures shall also need legislation to be passed. Hence, in reality, MPs realising the importance and seriousness of their job can be the only true solution to the problem.

Please do comment and share your views about how the situation could be fixed...

 


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