Ineffectiveness of Parliamentary control over the executive
Amid continuing disruptions in Monsoon session 2021, Lok Sabha, on average, took less than 10 minutes to pass a law, and Rajya Sabha passed each law in less than half an hour. The passage of these laws was more in form than in substance. In Lok Sabha, there were 13 bills in which no Member of Parliament (MP) spoke other than the minister in charge of the bill.
The constitution of India mandate Parliament to examine the work of the government. What are the reasons behind the gradual deterioration in Parliament’s functioning?
Role of the Parliament:
● Parliament has the central role in our democracy as the representative body that checks the work of the government. The constitution gives Parliament the mandate to keep the government accountable by scrutinising the working of ministries, making laws to address opportunities in the legal system, discussing and passing the budget to keep the country on a firm financial footing and representing the hopes and aspirations of the people.
● Over the last few years, bills like GST, Consumer Protection, Insolvency and Bankruptcy, Labour Codes, Surrogacy, and DNA Technology have benefited from parliamentary committees’ scrutiny. Their closed-door technical deliberations, inputs from ministry officials, subject-matter experts, and ordinary citizens have strengthened government bills.
Reason for the ineffectiveness of Parliamentary control over executive:
No Bill scrutiny
● During budget session 2021, 13 Bills were introduced, and not even one of them was referred to a parliamentary committee for examination.
● In all, 13 Bills were introduced in this session, and eight of them were passed within the session. This is an abdication of the constitutional duty of Parliament to scrutinise bills.
The decline in the efficacy of parliamentary committees
● The percentage of Bills referred to committees declined from 60% and 71% in the 14th Lok Sabha (2004-09) and the 15th Lok Sabha, respectively, to 27% in the 16th Lok Sabha and just 11% in the present Lok Sabha.
● Parliamentary committees play an important role in the scrutiny of legislation. For example, the committee that examined the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code suggested many changes to make the Code work better, and which were all incorporated in the final law.
Money Bill classification
● Many bills are marked as ‘Money Bills’ to pass without the scrutiny of the Rajya Sabha. The Finance Bills, over the last few years, have contained several unconnected items such as restructuring of tribunals, the introduction of electoral bonds, and amendments to the foreign contribution act.
● During budget session 2021, the Lok Sabha had listed the budget of just five Ministries for detailed discussion and discussed only three of these; 76% of the total budget was approved without any discussion.
● With Parliament being disrupted routinely, Members of Parliament (MPs) are not able to ask ministers tough questions during question hour to assess the work of ministries. With disruptions eating into the time available for Parliamentary business, adequate time is not available for debating legislation. As a result, Bills either get passed without effective debate or remain pending in Parliament.
Shorter Parliamentary Sessions
● The Budget session 2021 of Parliament ended two weeks ahead of the original plan.
● As a result, the fiscal year 2020-21 saw the Lok Sabha sitting for 34 days (and the Rajya Sabha for 33), the lowest ever.
● With Parliament meeting for a fewer number of days and with its productivity falling on account of disruptions, MPs are not able to raise matters of urgent public importance and bring them to the attention of the government.
● The Constitution empowers the government to make a law when Parliament is not in session, and the situation requires immediate action. Over the years, successive governments have exploited the spirit of this constitutional provision. Governments have promulgated an ordinance a few days before a parliamentary session, cut a session short to issue one, and pushed a law that is not urgent through the ordinance route.
● Our country needs a robust law-making process. The government must ensure that it identifies the gaps in our legal system proactively. All its bills should go through pre-legislative scrutiny before being brought to Parliament. The legislature, on its part, should conduct in-depth scrutiny of government bills.
● A simple debate on the floor of Parliament should not be enough for the legislative institution to stamp its approval.
● Mandatory scrutiny of bills by parliamentary committees should become the rule and not the exception. Hurriedly-made and inadequately-scrutinised laws hardly ever achieve their desired outcomes. Our statute books are full of examples of laws that have either failed or had unintended consequences.
● A system of research support to Members of Parliament should be created and sufficient time for MPs to examine issues can be provided.
Operationalisation of Law Passed by Parliament
● In the ongoing stalemate between protesting farmers and the Centre, the government has repeated its offer of keeping the three contentious farm laws on hold for one to one-and-a-half years, while the farmers have rejected the offer and insisted that the laws be repealed.
● Over the years, the Parliament has repealed several laws — and there have also been precedents of the government not bringing the law into force for several years after it has been passed.
Though some bills were passed by the Parliament, the law never came into effect or was operationalised as law. Explain.
Steps for operationalisation as law after the bill passed by the Parliament:
● The parliament has the power to make a law and to remove it from the statute books (a law can be struck down by the judiciary if it is unconstitutional). But the passing of a Bill does not mean that it will start working from the next day. There are three more steps for it to become a functioning law.
● The first step is the President giving his or her assent to the Bill. Then the law comes into effect from a particular date. And finally, the government frames the rules and regulations to make the law operational on the ground. The completion of these steps determines when the law becomes functional.
1. The President giving his or her assent to the Bill:
➢ Article 111 of the Constitution specifies that the President can either sign off on the Bill or withhold his consent. The President rarely withholds their assent to a Bill. The last time it happened was in 2006 when President A P J Abdul Kalam refused to sign a Bill protecting MPs from disqualification for holding an office of profit.
➢ The Constitution does not specify a time limit for the President to approve a Bill. In 1986, President Zail Singh made use of the loophole in the Constitution. A Bill criticised for violating the privacy of personal correspondence was sent to him for approval seven months before the end of his term. He decided not to take any action on the Bill until the end of his term.
➢ Most Bills receive the President’s approval in a few days. The President signed the three farm Bills into law within a week of their passing in September 2020.
2. The date on which the law comes into effect is notified by notification in the Official Gazette:
➢ In many cases, Parliament delegates to the government the power to determine this date. The Bill states that the law “shall come into force on such date as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, appoint and different dates may be appointed for different provisions of this Act”. For example, Parliament passed the Recycling of Ships Act in December 2019. In October 2020, the government brought Section 3 of the law into force.
➢ There are also instances when the government does not bring a law into force for many years. For example, the National Environment Tribunal Act, which Parliament passed in 1995 and cleared by the President. It never came into force. Finally, The National Green Tribunal Act repealed the environmental tribunal law in 2010.
➢ There are also multiple instances where a law specifies when it will come into effect. The 2013 land acquisition law put an outer limit of three months for the Centre to bring it into force after the President approved it.
3. Rules & regulations:
➢ These are day to day operational details required for the law to start working on the ground. Parliament gives the government the responsibility of making them. These regulations are critical for the functioning of the law.
➢ If the government does not make rules and regulations, laws or parts of it will not get implemented. The Benami Transactions Act of 1988 is an example of a complete law remaining unimplemented in the absence of regulations.
➢ Parliament has recommended that the government make rules within six months of passing a law. But parliamentary committees have observed that this recommendation is “being followed in breach by various ministries”. The government not only has the power to make rules but can also suppress rules made by it earlier. In the case of farm laws, the government has made some rules in October 2020.
The effectiveness of democracy is dependent on the fact of it being participatory and deliberative. There is a need for consulting all stakeholders while passing laws in the parliament to ensure that everyone’s concerns are heard and taken care of.