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Parliamentary performance this session

March 15th, 2010 1 comment

The Lok Sabha  adjourns today for a three-week recess.  The Rajya Sabha is scheduled to adjourned on March 18.  Here’s a brief look at the activity of Parliament this session (data till March 15):

Productive Hours: The session has witnessed more than its fair share of disruptions.  In the 14 sitting days, over 22 hours has been lost to interruptions in the Lok Sabha and over 26 hours in the Rajya Sabha.  The number of productive hours so far is 53 and 50 hours in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively.

[Click here to compare with previous sessions.]

The session began with protests by the Opposition, putting pressure on the Government to schedule a debate on price rise.  After the presentation of the Budget, the protests revolved around the petroleum price hike.  The disruptions in the Rajya Sabha were on account of the Women’s Reservation Bill, which resulted in the suspension of seven MPs. On March 9 the Rajya Sabha was adjourned five times, before the passage of the Bill.

Legislative business: This session, the government had listed 63 Bills for introduction, 16 pending Bills for consideration and passing and 10 pending Bills for consideration and passing if their Standing Committee reports are submitted.

Other than financial business transacted, which includes passage of Demand for Grants and Appropriation Bills, the only legislation that has been passed so far is the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha. The Lok Sabha also has passed one Bill that replaces an Ordinance – the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Bill. In the 14 sitting days, the House has spent 6 hours on legislative business.

Question Hour: Another important aspect of parliamentary business is the Question Hour.  Interestingly, the Lok Sabha rules were amended before the start of this session to ensure that the absence of MPs does not result in the collapse of Question Hour.  However, the amount of time spent on questions in both Houses this session has remained under 5 hours.

Ratifying Reservation

March 10th, 2010 6 comments

There have been articles in the media on the future passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill stating that the Bill will have to be ratified by state legislatures before it is signed into law by the President.  Our analysis indicates that ratification by state legislatures is not required.  We state the reasons below:

This Bill amends the Constitution.  It (a) amends Article 239AA,  Article 331, and Article 333, and  (b) inserts Article 330A, Article 332A, and Article 334A.  In doing so the Bill:

  • Seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies;
  • One third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be reserved for women of those groups in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies;
  • Reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies.

Article 368 regulates the procedure for amending the Constitution.  It states that the ratification of the state legislatures to a constitutional amendment is required in the following cases:

a. If there is a change in the provisions regarding elections to the post of the President of India.

b. If there is a change in the extent of the executive power of the centre or the state governments.

c. If there is any change in the provisions regarding the Union judiciary or the High Courts.

d. If the distribution of legislative powers between the centre and the states is affected.

e. If any of the Lists in the Seventh Schedule is affected.

f. If the representation of the states in the Rajya Sabha is changed.

g. Lastly, if Article 368 itself is amended.

None of these provisions are attracted in the case of the Women’s Reservation Bill.  The Parliament recently extended the reservation of seats for SCs, STs and Anglo-Indians in Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies by another ten years.  Article 334 was amended to state that such reservation “will cease to have effect on the expiration of a period of seventy years from the commencement of the Constitution.”  The 109th Amendment Bill was passed by both Houses of Parliament and did not require the ratification of the states before being signed into law by the President.  It follows that if Bills amending provisions for reserving seats for SCs and STs don’t need ratification by state legislatures, a bill reserving seats for women does not need ratification either.

Thus Article 368 very clearly lays down situations in which state legislatures have to ratify a piece of legislation before it can receive the assent of the President.

Disruptions in Parliament

March 9th, 2010 4 comments

Indiscipline and disruptions in Parliament are much talked about issues.  Not only are disruptions a waste of Parliament’s valuable time, these significantly taint the image of this esteemed institution.  Commotion in Rajya Sabha over the introduction of Women’s Reservation Bill and the subsequent suspension of 7 MPs has brought this issue back to the forefront.  We thought it might be useful to research and highlight instances in the past when the House had had to deal with similar situations.

According to the Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette of the Rajya Sabha, The House has the right to punish its members for their misconduct whether in the House or outside it.  In cases of misconduct or contempt committed by its members, the House can impose a punishment in the form of admonition, reprimand, withdrawal from the House, suspension from the service of the House, imprisonment and expulsion from the House.”

Mild offences are punished by admonition or reprimand (reprimand being the more serious of the two).  Withdrawal from the House is demanded in the case of gross misconduct. ‘Persistent and wilful obstructions’ lead the Chairman to name and subsequently move a motion for suspension of the member.  A member can be suspended, at the maximum, for the remainder of the session only.

In an extreme case of misconduct, the House may expel a member from the House. According to a comment in the above rule book, The purpose of expulsion is not so much disciplinary as remedial, not so much to punish members as to rid the House of persons who are unfit for membership.”

There have been several instances in the past when the Parliament has exercised its right to punish members. We pulled together a few instances:

Rajya Sabha

Unruly behaviour – Some instances
3-Sep-62 Shri Godey Murahari was suspended for the remainder of the session on 3 Septemebr 1962. He was removed by the Marshal of the House
25-Jul-66 Shri Raj Narain and Shri Godey Murahari were suspended for one week by two separate motions moved on 25 July 1966, by the Leader of the House (Shri M.C. Chagla) and adopted by the House. After they refused to withdraw, they were removed by the Marshal of the House. Next day, the Chairman expressed his distress and leaders of parties expressed their regret at the incident
12-Aug-71 The Minister of Parliamentary Affairs (Shri Om Mehta) moved a motion on 12 August 1971, for the suspension of Shri Raj Narain for the remainder of the session. The motion was adopted. Shri Raj Narain, on refusing to withdraw, was removed by the Marshal of the House
Source: Rajya Sabha, Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette
Expulsion – All instances (three in total)
15-Nov-76 Shri Subramanian Swamy was expelled on 15 November 1976 on the basis of the Report of the Committee appointed to investigate his conduct and activities. The Committee found his conduct derogatory to the dignity of the House and its members and inconsistent with the standards which the House expects from its members
23-Dec-05 Dr. Chhattrapal Singh Lodha was expelled on 23 December 2005, for his conduct being derogatory to the dignity of the House and inconsistent with the Code of Conduct, consequent on the adoption of a motion by the House agreeing with the recommendation contained in the Seventh Report of the Committee on Ethics
21-Mar-06 Dr. Swami Sakshi Ji Maharaj was expelled on 21 March 2006, for his gross misconduct which brought the House and its members into disrepute and contravened the Code of Conduct for members of Rajya Sabha, consequent on the adoption of a motion by the House agreeing with the recommendation of the Committee on Ethics contained in its Eighth Report
Source: Rajya Sabha, Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette

Lok Sabha

Unruly behaviour – Some instances
15-Mar-89 Commotion in the House over the Thakkar Commission report (Report of Justice Thakkar Commission of Inquiry on the Assassination of the Late Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi; revelations published in Indian Express before report tabled in Parliament) led to 63 MPs being suspended for a week. An opposition member belonging to the Janata Group (Syed Shahabuddin) who had not been suspended, submitted that he also be treated as suspended and walked out of the House. Three other members (GM Banatwalla, MS Gill and Shaminder Singh) also walked out in protest.
20-Jul-89 Demand for resignation of Govt. because of the adverse remarks made against it by the CAG in his report on Defence Services for the year 1988-89 saw commotion in the House. Satyagopal Misra dislodged microphone placed before the Chair and threw it in the pit of the House. (Sheila Dikshit was the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs). No member was suspended.
Source: Subhash Kashyap, Parliamentary Procedure (Second Edition)

Update on the Women’s Reservation Bill

February 9th, 2010 5 comments

Speaker Meira Kumar has urged political parties to arrive at a consensus on the women’s reservation bill.  The 2008 Bill has the following main features. 

1. It reserves one-third of all seats in Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies within each state for women. 

2. There is quota-within-quota for SCs, STs and Anglo-Indians. 

3. The reserved seats will be rotated after each general elections – thus after a cycle of three elections, all constituencies would have been reserved once.  This reservation will be operational for 15 years.

 This Bill has had a chequered history.  A similar Bill was introduced in 1996, 1998 and 1999 – all of which lapsed after the dissolution of the respective Lok Sabhas.  A Joint Parliamentary Committee chaired by Geeta Mukherjee examined the 1996 Bill and made seven recommendations.  Five of these have been included in the latest 2008 Bill.  These are (i) reservation for a period of 15 years; (ii) including sub-reservation for Anglo Indians; (iii) including reservation in cases where the state has less than three seats in Lok Sabha (or less than three seats for SCs/STs); (iv) including reservation for the Delhi assembly; and (v) changing “not less than one-third” to “as nearly as may be, one-third”.

 Two of the recommendations are not incorporated in the 2008 Bill.  The first is for reserving seats in Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils.  The second is for sub-reservation for OBC women after the Constitution extends reservation to OBCs.

The 2008 Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice.  This Committee failed to reach a consensus in its final report.  The Committee has recommendedthat the Bill “be passed in Parliament and put in action without further delay.  Two members of the Committee, Virender Bhatia and Shailendra Kumar (both belonging to the Samajwadi Party) dissented stating that they were not against providing reservation to women but disagreed with the way this Bill was drafted.  They had three recommendations:  (i) every political party must distribute 20% of its tickets to women; (ii) even in the current form, reservation should not exceed 20% of seats; and (iii) there should be a quota for women belonging to OBCs and minorities.

The Standing committee considered two other methods of increasing representation.  One suggestion (part of election commission recommendations) was to requite political parties to nominate women for a minimum percentage of seats.  The committee felt that parties could bypass the spirit of the law by nominating women to losing seats.  The second recommendation was to create dual member constituencies, with women filling one of the two seats from those constituencies.  The Committee believed that this move could “result in women being reduced to a subservient status, which will defeat the very purpose of the Bill”.

It is interesting to note that the Committee did not reject the two recommendations of the Geeta Mukherjee Committee that are not reflected in the Bill.  The Committee concluded that the issue of reservations to Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils needs to be examined thoroughly as the upper Houses play an equally important role under the Constitution.  Incidentally, it is not possible to reserve seats in Rajya Sabha given the current system of elections to that house (see Appendix below).

On the issue of  reservations to OBC women, the Committee said that “all other issues may be considered at an appropriate time by Government without any further delay at the present time in the passage of the Bill”.

Though the Bill does not have a consensus – it has been opposed by SP, RJD and JD(U) – most parties have publicly expressed their support for it.  The government will likely not find it difficult to muster two-third support in each House of Parliament were the Bill be taken up for consideration and passing.  It would be interesting to see whether the Bill is brought before Parliament in the upcoming Budget Session.

Appendix: Impossibility of Reservation in Rajya Sabha

Article 80of the Constitution specifies that members of state assemblies will elect Rajya Sabha MPs through single transferable vote.  This implies that the votes are first allocated to the most preferred candidate, and then to the next preferred candidate, and so on.  This system cannot accommodate the principle of reserving a certain number of seats for a particular group.  Currently, Rajya Sabha does not have reservation for SCs and STs.

Therefore, any system that provides reservation in Rajya Sabha implies that the Constitution must be amended to jettison the Single Transferable Vote system.

Defections in Parliament

February 8th, 2010 1 comment

In the late 1960s and 70s, defections (elected legislators changing parties after the election) in Parliament and State Legislatures became very frequent, so frequent in fact, that the epithet “Aaya Ram Gaya Ram” was coined to describe the same.  To curb this problem which created instability in our legislatures, Parliament amended the Constitution.  They inserted the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution “to curb the evil of political defections”.  As a result, we currently have an anti-defection law with the following features:

1.  If an MP/MLA who belongs to a political party voluntarily resigns from his party or, disobeys the party “whip” (a direction given by the party to all MPs/ MLAs to vote in a certain manner), he is disqualified.   The party may however condone the MP/ MLA within 15 days.

2.  An independent MP/ MLA cannot join a political party after the election.

3.  An MP/ MLA who is nominated (to the Rajya Sabha or upper houses in state legislatures) can only join a party within 6 months of his election.

4.  Mergers of well-defined groups of individuals or political parties are exempted from disqualification if certain conditions are met.

5.  The decision to disqualify is taken by the Speaker/ Chairman of the House.

The table below summarizes provisions of anti-defection law in some other countries.  (For more, click here).  As one may note, a number of developed countries do not have any law to regulate defection.

Regulation of defection in some countries

Country Experi-ence Law on defection The Law on Defection
Bangladesh Yes Yes The Constitution says a member shall vacate his seat if he resigns from or votes against the directions given by his party.  The dispute is referred by the Speaker to the Election Commission.
Kenya Yes Yes The Constitution states that a member who resigns from his party has to vacate his seat.  The decision is by the Speaker, and the member may appeal to the High Court.
Singapore Yes Yes Constitution says a member must vacate his seat if he resigns, or is expelled from his party.  Article 48 states that Parliament decides on any question relating to the disqualification of a member.
South Africa Yes Yes The Constitution provides that a member loses membership of the Parliament if he ceases to be a member of the party that nominated him.
Australia Yes No
Canada Yes No
France Yes No
Germany Yes No
Malaysia Yes No
United Kingdom Yes No