संसद

लोकसभा का 17वां सत्र: हम क्या अपेक्षा कर सकते हैं

2019 के आम चुनावों के परिणाम पिछले हफ्ते घोषित किए गए हैं और 17वीं लोकसभा के निर्वाचन की प्रक्रिया समाप्त हो चुकी है। नतीजे के तुरंत बाद पिछली लोकसभा भंग कर दी गई। आने वाले कुछ दिनों में अनेक मुख्य घटनाक्रम देखने को मिलेंगे। प्रधानमंत्री और कैबिनेट के शपथ ग्रहण के बाद, लोकसभा का 17वां सत्र प्रारंभ होगा। पहले सत्र में नवनिर्वाचित सांसद शपथ लेंगे, 17वीं लोकसभा के अध्यक्ष को चुना जाएगा और राष्ट्रपति संसद की संयुक्त बैठक को संबोधित करेंगे। इस ब्लॉग में हम इन घटनाक्रमों की प्रक्रिया और उनके महत्व को स्पष्ट करेंगे।

17वीं लोकसभा के पहले सत्र के मुख्य घटनाक्रम

भारतीय जनता पार्टी बहुमत हासिल करने वाली अकेली पार्टी है और उसके नेता प्रधानमंत्री के रूप में शपथ ग्रहण करेंगे। संविधान के अनुच्छेद 75 (1) के अनुसार, अन्य मंत्रियों को प्रधानमंत्री की सलाह से राष्ट्रपति द्वारा नियुक्त किया जाता है। संविधान का 91वां संशोधन मंत्रिपरिषद की सदस्य संख्या को, सदन की कुल सदस्य संख्या के 15% पर सीमित करता है। मीडिया रिपोर्ट्स के अनुसार, मंत्रिपरिषद का शपथ ग्रहण 30 मई, 2019 को होना तय किया गया है।    

पहले सत्र का शेड्यूल कैसे तय होता है?

17वीं लोकसभा का पहला सत्र जून के पहले हफ्ते में शुरू होगा। पहले सत्र की शुरुआत की निश्चित तिथि और सत्र के मुख्य घटनाक्रमों का शेड्यूल, जिसमें राष्ट्रपति के संबोधन की तिथि भी शामिल है, को संसदीय मामलों की कैबिनेट कमिटी तय करती है। मंत्रिपरिषद के शपथ ग्रहण के बाद कमिटी का गठन किया जाएगा। पिछली लोकसभा 4 जून, 2014 को शुरू हुई थी और उसके पहले सत्र की छह दिन बैठक हुई थी (4 जून, 2014 से 11 जून, 2014)।

पहले सत्र की अध्यक्षता कौन करता है?

सदन की प्रत्येक कार्यवाही की अध्यक्षता स्पीकर (अध्यक्ष) द्वारा की जाती है। नई लोकसभा के पहली बैठक से तत्काल पहले अध्यक्ष का पद रिक्त हो जाता है। इसलिए एक अस्थायी अध्यक्ष, जिसे प्रो-टेम स्पीकर कहा जाता है, को नव निर्वाचित सांसदों में से चुना जाता है। प्रो-टेम स्पीकर नव निर्वाचित सदस्यों को शपथ/प्रतिज्ञान दिलाता है, और उस बैठक की अध्यक्षता करता है जिसमें नए अध्यक्ष को चुना जाता है। नए अध्यक्ष के निर्वाचित होने के बाद प्रो-टेम स्पीकर का पद समाप्त हो जाता है।

प्रो-टेम स्पीकर को कैसे चुना जाता है?

नई सरकार के चुने जाने के बाद सदन के वरिष्ठतम सदस्यों के नामों की सूची तैयार की जाती है। वरिष्ठता का निर्धारण संसद के किसी भी सदन में कुल कार्यकाल के आधार पर किया जाता है। इसके बाद प्रधानमंत्री सूची में से उस सदस्य को चिन्हित करते हैं जो प्रो-टेम स्पीकर के रूप में कार्य करेगा। तीन अन्य सदस्यों को भी चिन्हित किया जाता है जिनके समक्ष अन्य सदस्य शपथ/प्रतिज्ञान ले सकते हैं।

नए अध्यक्ष को कैसे चुना जाता है?

कोई भी सदस्य इस प्रस्ताव का नोटिस दे सकता है कि किसी दूसरे सदस्य को सदन का अध्यक्ष चुना जाए। फिर इस प्रस्ताव को रखा जाता है और उस पर वोटिंग होती है। परिणाम घोषित होने के बाद प्रधानमंत्री और विपक्ष के नेता सहित सभी राजनैतिक दलों के नेताओं द्वारा निर्वाचित अध्यक्ष को बधाई दी जाती है। इसके बाद नए अध्यक्ष द्वारा सदन की कार्यवाही संचालित की जाती है। 

संविधान की जानकारी और संसद की कार्य प्रक्रिया के नियमों और परंपराओं की जानकारी अध्यक्ष की मुख्य थाती मानी जाती है। हालांकि इससे इस बात का संकेत मिलता है कि अध्यक्ष सदन का वरिष्ठतम सदस्य होता है, यह सदैव का नियम नहीं है। अतीत में ऐसे कई मौके आए हैं जब सदन का अध्यक्ष पहली बार सांसद बना हो। उदाहरण के लिए छठी लोकसभा के अध्यक्ष के.एस.हेगड़े और सातवीं लोकसभा के अध्यक्ष बलराम जाखड़ पहली बार अध्यक्ष बने थे।

सदन में अध्यक्ष की क्या भूमिका होती है?

विधायिका के कामकाज में अध्यक्ष की केंद्रीय भूमिका होती है। सदन की कार्यवाही कार्य प्रक्रिया के नियमों से निर्देशित होते हैं और इन नियमों की व्याख्या और कार्यान्वयन की अंतिम अथॉरिटी अध्यक्ष के पास होती है। अध्यक्ष सदन में चर्चा कराने और व्यवस्था कायम करने के लिए जिम्मेदार होता है। उदाहरण के लिए यह अध्यक्ष के विवेक पर है कि वह किसी सदस्य को सदन में लोकहित के मुद्दे को उठाने की अनुमति देता है अथवा नहीं। अध्यक्ष सदन के कामकाज को बाधित करने पर किसी सदस्य को निलंबित कर सकता है या अधिक अव्यवस्था होने पर सदन को स्थगित कर सकता है।

अध्यक्ष कार्य मंत्रणा समिति का भी अध्यक्ष होता है। यह समिति सदन के कामकाज के निर्धारण के लिए जिम्मेदार होती है और उसके लिए समय आबंटित करती है। अध्यक्ष लोकसभा की सामान्य प्रयोजन समिति और नियम समिति की भी अध्यक्षता करता है और सदस्यों के बीच से समितियों के अध्यक्षों की नियुक्ति करता है। इससे पूर्व समिति प्रणाली को मजबूत करने में अध्यक्षों ने महत्वपूर्ण भूमिका निभाई है। 10वीं लोकसभा के अध्यक्ष शिवराज पाटील ने 17 विभाग संबंधी स्टैंडिंग कमिटियों की शुरुआत करने में अहम भूमिका निभाई थी जिससे संसद अधिक प्रभावी तरीके से कार्यकारिणी की निगरानी कर सके।

चूंकि अध्यक्ष पूरे सदन का प्रतिनिधित्व करता है, उसके पद में निष्पक्षता और स्वतंत्रता निहित है। संविधान और कार्य प्रक्रिया के नियमों में ऐसे दिशानिर्देश दिए गए हैं जिनसे अध्यक्ष के पद की निष्पक्षता और स्वतंत्रता सुनिश्चित हो। चौथी लोकसभा के अध्यक्ष डॉ. एन. संजीवा रेड्डी ने अपने राजनैतिक दल से इस्तीफा दे दिया था क्योंकि उनका यह मानना था कि अध्यक्ष पूरे सदन के लिए होता है इसलिए उसे निष्पक्ष बने रहना चाहिए। संविधान के 100वें अनुच्छेद के अनुसार, अध्यक्ष पहले तो किसी मामले में वोट नहीं देगा। हालांकि वोट बराबर होने की स्थिति में वह अपना वोट देगा।

राष्ट्रपति के अभिभाषण में क्या होता है?

अध्यक्ष के चुनाव के बाद राष्ट्रपति का अभिभाषण होता है। भारतीय संविधान के 87वें अनुच्छेद में राष्ट्रपति से यह अपेक्षा की गई है कि वह प्रत्येक आम चुनाव के बाद पहले सत्र की शुरुआत में दोनों सदनों को संबोधित करेगा। राष्ट्रपति प्रत्येक वर्ष के पहले सत्र की शुरुआत में भी दोनों सदनों को संबोधित करता है। राष्ट्रपति के अभिभाषण में पिछले वर्ष के सरकार के कार्यक्रमों पर प्रकाश डाला जाता है और आगामी वर्ष के लिए नीतिगत प्राथमिकताओं का उल्लेख किया जाता है।

भारत के राष्ट्रपति रामनाथ कोविंद 17वीं लोकसभा के पहले सत्र को संबोधित करेंगे। 16वीं लोकसभा के दौरान 9 जून, 2014 को राष्ट्रपति का पहला अभिभाषण हुआ था। राष्ट्रपति का अंतिम अभिभाषण 31 जनवरी, 2019 को हुआ था (इस अभिभाषण की झलकियों को यहां पढ़ा जा सकता है।

अभिभाषण के बाद सत्तारूढ़ दल संसद के दोनों सदनों में राष्ट्रपति के अभिभाषण पर धन्यवाद प्रस्ताव पेश करते हैं। धन्यवाद प्रस्ताव में सांसद इस प्रस्ताव में संशोधन पेश कर सकते हैं जिसके बाद उन पर वोट होता है। अभिभाषण में संशोधन को सरकार के खिलाफ अविश्वास प्रस्ताव के रूप में देखा जाता है।  

 

Sources: The Constitution of India; Rules and Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha; Handbook on the Working of Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs; The website of Parliament of India, Lok Sabha; The website of Office of the Speaker, Lok Sabha.

President’s Address 2014 to 2017: Plan vs. Performance

Budget Session 2017 commenced with the President, Pranab Mukherjee, addressing a joint sitting of Parliament on January 31, 2017.  This address by the President highlights the legislative and policy activities and achievements of the government in the previous year.  In addition, it gives a broad indication of the government’s agenda for the year ahead.  The address is followed by a motion of thanks that is moved in each House by ruling party MPs.  This is followed by a discussion on the address and concludes with the Prime Minister replying to the points raised during the discussion.

In the lower house, the motion of thanks has begun today.  It began in the upper house on February 2, 2017.  Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have allocated two and three days for the discussion, respectively.  In this context, we present an analysis of the salient points of the agenda proposed in the President’s address from 2014 to 2017 and the current status of its implementation.

Policy priority stated in the President’s address (2014 to 2017) Current Status 
Macroeconomy
  • GDP growth has made India the world’s fastest growing economies, among large economies.
  • Foreign exchange reserves have been at an all-time high, and inflation, current account deficit and fiscal deficit have consistently reduced since 2014.
  • The GDP is estimated to grow at 7.1% in 2016-17, compared to its growth of 7.9% in 2015-16.[i]
  • The Economic Survey 2016-17 has stated the GDP growth to be between 6.75% and 7.5% in 2017-18.[ii]
  • The average CPI inflation declined from 5.6% in December 2015 to 3.4% in December 2016.[iii]  In the same period, food inflation also decreased from 6.4% from 1.4%.3
  • Current account deficit decreased from USD 14.7 billion in 2015-16 (April-September) to USD 3.7 billion in the corresponding period in 2016-17.[iv]
  • Foreign exchange reserves presently stand at Rs 24,54,950 crore, an increase of Rs 1,02,130 crore from 2016.[v]
Poverty eradication and financial inclusion
  • The Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana was launched to provide universal access to banking facilities.  The coverage under the scheme is close to 100%.
  • The proposed Postal Payment Bank of India will further boost financial inclusion.
  • Presently, around 27 crore accounts have been opened under the scheme.[vi]  However, out of these, 25% of the accounts are zero balance accounts.6
  • The Indian Postal Payments Bank has started.[vii]  The postal network with over 1.5 lakh post offices will also function as postal banks.7
Agriculture and water security
  • Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana has expanded risk-coverage, doubled the sum insured, and facilitated low premium for farmers.
  • The government is also committed to implementation of Interlinking of Rivers Project.
  • Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana has been implemented by 21 states.[viii]  3.66 crore farmers have been covered under the scheme, out of a total of 11 crore farmers in the country.[ix]
  • In April 2015, a Task Force was constituted on the Interlinking of Rivers Project.[x]  The Task Force is yet to submit its report.  The sub-Committee on restructuring the National Water Development Agency in September 2015 had recommended that a National Interlinking of Rivers Authority should be created through an Act of Parliament.[xi]  So far, further steps have not been taken in this regard.
Energy
  • The Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2014 has been introduced to bring reforms in the electricity sector.
  • Renewable energy capacity will manifold to 175 GW by 2022.
  • The Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2014 is pending in the Parliament.  The Standing Committee submitted its report on the Bill in May, 2015.[xii]
  • As of December 2016, 51 GW of renewable energy has been generated in the country.[xiii]  However, in 2016-17, only 26% of the target of the generation of renewable energy could be achieved.13
Governance and legal reforms
  • Close to 1,800 obsolete legislation are at various stages of repeal.
  • My government is committed to providing 33% reservation to women in the Parliament and state Legislative Assemblies.
  • Amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act are also on the anvil.
  • 758 Appropriation Acts and 295 laws have been repealed.[xiv],[xv]
  • No Bill in relation to providing 33% reservation to women has been introduced yet.
  • The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013, is presently pending in Parliament.  The Standing Committee and Rajya Sabha Select Committee have submitted their reports on the Bill.
Defence
  • One Rank One Pension scheme will be implemented.
  • Defence procurement procedure has been streamlined with a focus on indigenously designed, developed and manufactured weapon systems.
  • Recognising the importance of coastal security, the government will set up a National Maritime Authority.
  • The government will also build a National War Memorial to honour the gallantry of our soldiers.
  • The implementation of One Rank One Pension scheme has been initiated.[xvi]  In 2016-17, Rs 12, 456 crore was allocated to the scheme.[xvii]
  • The Defence Procurement Policy 2016 added an additional category “Buy (Indian-Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured) as the most preferred way of capital acquisition.[xviii]
  • The National Maritime Authority and National War Memorial are yet to be established.
Environment
  • Funds will be released to states and union territories for aggressive afforestation.
  • To conserve the Himalayan ecology, a National Mission on Himalayas will be launched.
  • Target for emission standards for motor vehicles has been drastically brought forward to achieve Bharat Stage –VI norm by 2021.
  • Parliament passed the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015 in July 2016.[xix]  The Bill establishes the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund and a State Compensatory Afforestation Fund for each state.  These Funds will be primarily spent on afforestation.
  • The National Mission on Himalayas is yet to be launched.
  • To make Bharat Stage-VI norms applicable by April 1, 2020, a draft notification was released in February 2016.[xx]
Rural and Urban Development
  • To develop 300 rural growth clusters across the country, Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission has also been launched.
  • Mission Antyodaya, an intensive participatory planning exercise has been initiated.
  • Annual action plan for 500 cities with an outlay of Rs 50,000 crore has been approved.
  • To implement the Rurban mission, Rs 5,142 crore has been allocated for the period from 2015-16 to 2019-20.[xxi]
  • Under Mission Antyodaya, the release of funds has been lower than the allocated amount in the last three years, from 2014-15 to 2016-17.[xxii]
  • Under the Smart Cities Mission, Rs 4,572 has been released to 98 cities during the years 2015-16 and 2016-17.[xxiii]
Health
  • My government will formulate a New Health Policy and roll out a National Health Assurance Mission.

 

  • Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Jan Aushadi Pariyojana has been launched to ensure that the poor have access to quality medicines at affordable prices.
  • A group was constituted in July 2014 to prepare a comprehensive background paper for the roll out of the National Health Assurance Mission.[xxiv]  Further progress in this regard has not been made.
  • The draft National Health Policy was released in December 2014 for public comments and suggestions.[xxv]  The Policy has not been finalised yet.
  • Under the Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Jan Aushadi Pariyojana, Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Kendras are proposed to be opened in all 630 districts of the country.[xxvi]
Women and child development
  • A Bill to amend the Juvenile Justice Act has been introduced in Parliament to reform the law relating to juvenile offences.
  • The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2014 was passed by Parliament in December 2015.[xxvii]  The Bill permits juveniles between the ages of 16-18 years to be tried as adults for heinous offences.

[Sources: President’s Address to the Parliament from 2014 to 2017; PRS.]

For important highlights from the President’s address in 2017, please see here.  For an analysis of the status of implementation of the announcements made in the 2016 address, please see here.

[i] “Press note on First Revised Estimates of National Income, 2015-16”, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, January 31, 2017, http://mospi.nic.in/sites/default/files/press_release/nad_PR_31jan17.pdf.

[ii] Economic Survey, 2016-17, http://finmin.nic.in/indiabudget2017-2018/e_survey.asp.

[iii] “Press Release Consumer Price Index Numbers on Base 2012=100 for Rural, Urban and Combined for the Month of December 2016”, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, January 12, 2017,http://mospi.nic.in/sites/default/files/press_release/CPI_PR12jan17th.pdf

[iv] “Developments in India’s Balance of Payments during the second quarter of 2016-17”, Reserve Bank of India, December 13, 2016, https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=38884.

[v] “Developments in India’s Balance of Payments during the second quarter of 2016-17”, Reserve Bank of India, December 13, 2016, https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=38884.

[vi] Progress Report, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (Last accessed on January 24, 2017),http://www.pmjdy.gov.in/account.

[vii] “Cabinet approves setting up of India Post Payments Bank”, Cabinet, June 1, 2016.

[viii] “Achievements of Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare”, Ministry of Agriculture, January 2, 2016.

[ix]  “Agricultural Statistics at a Glance 2015”, Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmer’s Welfare, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare, http://eands.dacnet.nic.in/PDF/Agricultural_Statistics_At_Glance-2015.pdf.

[x] “Task Force on Interlinking Rivers Constituted”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Water Resources, April 14, 2015.

[xi] Special Committee for Interlinking of Rivers, National Water Development Agency,http://www.nwda.gov.in/writereaddata/ilr/notification.pdf.

[xii] Report No. 4, Standing Committee on Energy, ‘The Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2014’, Lok Sabha, May 2015, Standing Committee on Energy, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Electricity/SC%20report-Electricity.pdf.

[xiii] “Physical Progress (Achievements)”, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy,  March  30, 2015,http://mnre.gov.in/mission-and-vision-2/achievements/.

[xiv] Appropriation Acts (Repeal) Act, 2016, http://lawmin.nic.in/ld/Act22of2016AppropriationActsrepeal.pdf.

[xv] Repealing and Amending Act, 2016, http://lawmin.nic.in/ld/Act23of2016RepealingandAmending.pdf.

[xvi] 12(1)/2014/D (Pen/PoI)- Part II, Government of India, Ministry of Defence, Department of Ex- Servicemen Welfare, November 7, 2015, http://www.desw.gov.in/sites/upload_files/desw/files/pdf/OR OP-DESW-MOD.pdf.

[xvii] Lok Sabha Unstarred Question 1696, Ministry of Defence, November 25, 2016,http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/10/AU1696.pdf.

[xviii] “Year End Review 2016”, Ministry of Defence, December 31, 2016,http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=156049.

[xix] The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016,http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Compensatory%20Afforestation/CAMPA%20act,%202016.pdf.

[xx] Rajya Sabha Unstarred Question No 82, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, April 25, 2016.

[xxi] Rajya Sabha Unstarred Question No 914, Department of Rural Development, May 2, 2016 ,http://164.100.47.234/question/annex/239/Au914.pdf.

[xxii] Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No 4443, Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, December 14, 2016, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/10/AU4443.pdf.

[xxiii] Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No 199, Ministry of Urban Development, November 16, 2016,http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/10/AU199.pdf.

[xxiv] “Rolling out of National Health Assurance Mission”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, July 15, 2014.

[xxv] Draft National Health Policy 2015, December 2014, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare,http://www.mohfw.nic.in/showfile.php?lid=3014.

[xxvi] Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Jan Aushadi Pariyojana guidelines,http://janaushadhi.gov.in/data/Individuals_December_2016.pdf.

[xxvii] The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015,http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Juvenile%20Justice/Juvenile%20Justice%20Act,%202015.pdf.

Rajya Sabha extends sitting hours, changes timing of Question Hour

Recently the Chairman of Rajya Sabha issued a direction to extend the sitting hours and change the timing of Question Hour in the Upper House. Beginning with the Winter Session, which starts on November 24, Rajya Sabha will meet from 11 am to 6 pm, an hour more than its typical sitting hours. Question Hour will be scheduled from 12 pm to 1 pm, which was earlier held in the first hour of meeting. Members of Parliament (MPs), in addition to their legislative capacity, play an important role to keep the government accountable. One mechanism for them to hold the government responsible for its policies and actions is Question Hour in Parliament. During Question Hour, MPs raise questions to Ministers on various policy matters and decisions. Currently, all MPs can submit up to ten questions for every day that Parliament is in Session. Of these, 250 Questions are picked up by a random ballot to be answered each day that Parliament meets. While 230 Questions are answered in writing by Ministries, 20 Questions are scheduled to be answered orally by Ministers on the floor of the House. When a Question is answered orally by a Minister, MPs are also able to ask him/her two Supplementary Questions as a follow up to the response given. Therefore the proper functioning of Question Hour allows Parliament to be effective in its accountability function. Over the years Question Hour has become a major casualty to disruptions in Parliament. The last decade has seen a decline in the number of questions answered orally on the floor of the House. Rajya Sabha had tried to address this problem in 2011, when Question Hour was shifted to be held from 2 pm to 3 pm, but this was discontinued within a few days. Percentage of Questions Answered Orally The 2014 Budget Session saw both Houses of Parliament work for over hundred percent of their scheduled sitting time. However, while Question Hour functioned for 87% of its scheduled time in Lok Sabha, it functioned for only 40% of its scheduled time in Rajya Sabha. In 13 of the 27 sittings of the 2014 Budget Session, Question Hour in Rajya Sabha was adjourned within a few minutes due to disruptions. It was as a result of these increasing disruptions in the Upper House that the change in timing of the Question Hour and extension of its hours of sitting were proposed. While the Rules of Procedures of Rajya Sabha designate the first hour of sitting for Question Hour, they also allow the Chairman of the House to direct otherwise. It is using this Rule that the Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Mr. Hamid Ansari, issued directions for the Question Hour to be shifted to noon. It now remains to be seen whether this change in timing of Question Hour in the Upper House will be sufficient to allow for its smoother functioning. Sources: M.N. Kaul and S.L. Shakdher, Practice and Procedure of Parliament, Lok Sabha Secretariat, 6th Edition, 2009 Rajya Sabha Rules of Procedure, Rajya Sabha Secretariat, 2010  

Strengthening Democracy: The Need For Recorded Voting

On 12th November, 2014, the Chief Minister of the newly formed government in Maharashtra won a confidence vote in the Maharashtra State Assembly. This trust vote was done by a voice vote, the outcome of which was contested by opposition parties. In this context, M.R. Madhavan discusses the need for recorded voting in our legislatures and ideas for how this change can be brought about.

Empowering parliamentarians

The 15th Lok Sabha recently concluded with the worst track record on a number of indicators. In the first of a four part series in Livemint, MR Madhavan of PRS Legislative Research discusses whether one can hope for an improvement in the performance of Parliament once the 16th Lok Sabha assembles in a couple of months.

The recently concluded 15th Lok Sabha performed poorly on many parameters: few sittings, low number of Bills passed and a significant proportion passed without deliberation, the higher proportion of time wasted on disruption etc. As the 16th Lok Sabha assembles in a couple of months, the big question is whether one can hope for an improvement in its performance. The recently concluded 15th Lok Sabha performed poorly on many parameters: few sittings, low number of Bills passed and a significant proportion passed without deliberation, the higher proportion of time wasted on disruption etc. As the 16th Lok Sabha assembles in a couple of months, the big question is whether one can hope for an improvement in its performance. Are there structural factors that led to the low effectiveness of Parliament in the last five years? If that is true, one can then look at ways to address these factors. Two aspects come to mind immediately: the anti-defection law and the lack of recorded voting. There are three other, key, functions of Parliament that merit attention: making laws, holding the government to account for its actions and policies, and the power of the purse. The anti-defection law was made by inserting the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution in 1985 to combat “the evil of political defections”. The provisions require every member of Parliament (MP) and of state legislative assemblies or councils (MLA or MLC) to abide by the party’s command on voting or abstaining on every vote. If a legislator fails to do so, he may be disqualified from his membership to the legislature. The provisions apply not only to votes that affect the stability of the government, i.e., no-confidence motions and money Bills. They are applicable to all votes. Also, they are applicable to members of Rajya Sabha and legislative councils, who have no say in the formation of the government. The effect is that each member is converted into a mere number at the beck and call of the party leadership. This goes against the basis of a representative democracy in which the elected representative is expected to act in public interest (as understood by him) which would usually be a combination of his ideology, political party membership and constituency interests. Instead, the current system forces him to blindly obey the instructions of the party leadership. This system weakens the checks and balances inherent in parliamentary democracy. The government can get any of its policies and Bills approved by issuing a whip to its party members and through backroom deals with the leadership of other political parties. It does not need to convince individual MPs of the merits of the proposals. Thus, our system strips the incentive for an MP to understand and think through any issue, as he has to finally just obey the party. For example, in December 2012, the government had to face a vote on permitting foreign direct investment in the retail sector. The members of all political parties voted (or abstained) on party lines. Contrast this with a system without the anti-defection law such as the British Parliament, in which, the prime minister was unable to win the vote in the House of Commons on going to war in Syria, despite the government having a comfortable majority. The irony is that the anti-defection law does not appear to be very effective in preventing defections that lead to the fall of the government. During the confidence motion in 2008, about 20 MPs defied the party whip. Also, this provision does not apply when the party leadership decides to change its affiliation—as the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) and Trinamool Congress did in the last two years—for a mass-defection from the coalition. Furthermore, the anti-defection law breaks the link between the elected representative and his electors. Citizens vote for their candidates on a combination of the person and the party—this is evident from the discussions on “winnability” of various candidates and the care with which parties allocate the tickets for elections. The elected representative is accountable to his voters for his actions, and this accountability is enforced when he contests for re-election from the constituency. However, the anti-defection law provides him with an excuse for his stand on any issue—that he had to obey the party’s diktat. Compare this to the system in other democracies, such as that seen in the electoral debates in the US, where candidates have to justify their past actions on various legislative votes, often those taken decades earlier. This brings us to a related issue—we do not have records of how MPs voted on most issues. Most motions are decided by a voice vote, with the Speaker determining whether the majority supported or rejected the motion. Though any member can challenge this decision and demand a division (recorded vote), it is rarely done. Of the 175 Bills passed in the 15th Lok Sabha (not counting Constitutional Amendment Bills), only 11 had a recorded vote. This implies that citizens do not know whether their MPs were even present in the House during the vote. This is an easy fix as every seat is provided with a voting machine. Indeed, in the British Parliament, where MPs have to physically walk out into the lobbies for their votes to be recorded, most Bills see such action. To sum up, we need two reforms urgently: repeal the anti-defection law, and require that all Bills be passed only through recorded voting. M.R. Madhavan is president of PRS Legislative Research.

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act: Review of implementation

In the recently concluded Monsoon Session of Parliament , the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development released a report on the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Development Act, 2005 (MGNREGA).  This blog provides a brief introduction to the key provisions of MGNREGA , followed by an overview of the major findings and recommendations of the Standing Committee. I. MGNREGA: A brief introduction A. Objectives: MGNREGA, which is the largest work guarantee programme in the world, was enacted in 2005 with the primary objective of guaranteeing 100 days of wage employment per year to rural households.  Secondly, it aims at addressing causes of chronic poverty through the 'works' (projects) that are undertaken, and thus ensuring sustainable development.  Finally, there is an emphasis on strengthening the process of decentralisation through giving a significant role to Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in planning and implementing these works. B. Key features:

  • Legal right to work: Unlike earlier employment guarantee schemes, the Act provides a legal right to employment for adult members of rural households.  At least one third beneficiaries have to be women.  Wages must be paid according to the wages specified for agricultural labourers in the state under the  Minimum Wages Act, 1948, unless the central government notifies a wage rate (this should not be less than Rs 60 per day).  At present, wage rates are determined by the central government but vary across states, ranging from Rs 135 per day to Rs 214 per day.
  • Time bound guarantee of work and unemployment allowance: Employment must be provided with 15 days of being demanded failing which an ‘unemployment allowance’ must be given.
  • Decentralised planning: Gram sabhas must recommend the works that are to be undertaken and at least 50% of the works must be executed by them.  PRIs are primarily responsible for planning, implementation and monitoring of the works that are undertaken.
  • Work site facilities: All work sites should have facilities such as crèches, drinking water and first aid.
  • Transparency and accountability: There are provisions for proactive disclosure through wall writings, citizen information boards, Management Information Systems and social audits.  Social audits are conducted by gram sabhas to enable the community to monitor the implementation of the scheme.
  • Funding:  Funding is shared between the centre and the states.  There are three major items of expenditure – wages (for unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled labour), material and administrative costs.  The central government bears 100% of the cost of unskilled labour, 75% of the cost of semi-skilled and skilled labour, 75% of the cost of materials and 6% of the administrative costs.

MGNREGA was implemented in phases, starting from February 2006, and at present it covers all districts of the country with the exception of those that have a 100% urban population.  The Act provides a list of works that can be undertaken to generate employment related to water conservation, drought proofing, land development, and flood control and protection works.  Table 1 provides information regarding employment generation and expenditure under MGNREGA. Table 1: MGNREGA: Key indicators

Year

Number of households provided employment (in crore)

Average number of person days of work per household

Total Expenditure (in lakh)

2006-07

2.10

43

8823.35

2007-08

3.39

42

15856.88

2008-09

4.51

48

27250.10

2009-10

5.25

54

37905.23

2010-11

5.49

47

39377.27

2011-12*

4.99

43

 38034.69

2012-13**

4.25

36

 28073.51

Source: Standing Committee on Rural Development; PRS. Note: *Provisional ** As on 31.01.2013 II. Findings and Recommendations of the Standing Committee on Rural Development A. Achievements: The Standing Committee highlighted several achievements of MGNREGA in the seven years of its implementation, especially:

  • Ensuring livelihood for people in rural areas.
  • Large scale participation of women, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs/STs) and other traditionally marginalised sections of society.  SCs/STs account for 51% of the total person-days generated and women account for 47% of the total person-days generated.
  • Increasing the wage rate in rural areas and strengthening the rural economy through the creation of infrastructure assets.
  • Facilitating sustainable development, and
  • Strengthening PRIs by involving them in the planning and monitoring of the scheme.

B. Challenges: However, the Committee found several issues with the implementation of the scheme. As Table 1 (above) shows, the average number of days of employment provided to households has been lower than the mandated 100 days, and has been decreasing since 2010-11. Key issues that the Committee raised include

  • Fabrication of job cards: While as many as 12.5 crore households have been issued job cards out of an estimated 13.8 crore rural households ( as per the 2001 census), there are several issues related to existence of fake job cards, inclusion of fictitious names, missing entries and delays in making entries in job cards.
  • Delay in payment of wages: Most states have failed to disburse wages within 15 days as mandated by MGNREGA.  In addition, workers are not compensated for a delay in payment of wages.
  • Non payment of unemployment allowances: Most states do not pay an unemployment allowance when work is not given on demand.  The non-issuance of dated receipts of demanded work prevents workers from claiming an unemployment allowance.
  • Large number of incomplete works: There has been a delay in the completion of works under MGNREGA and inspection of projects has been irregular.  Implementing agencies were able to complete only 98 lakh works out of 296 lakh works.  As Table 2 shows, a large percentage of works remain incomplete under MGNREGA and the work completion rate appears to be decreasing in recent years.

Table 2: Work completion rate

Year

Work completion rate (%)

2006-07

46.34

2007-08

45.99

2008-09

43.76

2009-10

48.94

2010-11

50.86

2011-12*

20.25

2012-13*

15.02

Total                  33.22

Source: Standing Committee on Rural Development. Note: * As on 30.01.2013

  • Other key challenges include poor quality of assets created, several instances of corruption in the implementation of MGNREGA, and insufficient involvement of PRIs.

C. Recommendations: The Committee made the following recommendations, based on its findings:

  • Regulation of job cards: Offences such as not recording employment related information in job cards and unlawful possession of job cards with elected PRI representatives and MGNREGA functionaries should be made punishable under the Act.
  • Participation of women: Since the income of female workers typically raises the standard of living of their households to a greater extent than their male counterparts, the participation of women must be increased through raising awareness about MGNREGA.
  • Participation of people with disabilities: Special works (projects) must be identified for people with disabilities; and  special job cards must be issued and personnel must be employed to ensure their participation.
  • Utilisation of funds:  The Committee found that a large amount of funds allocated for MGNREGA have remained unutilised.  For example, in 2010-11, 27.31% of the funds remained unutilised.  The Committee recommends that the Department of Rural Development should analyse reasons for poor utilisation of funds and take steps to improve the same.  In addition, it should initiate action against officers found guilty of misappropriating funds under MGNREGA.
  • Context specific projects and convergence: Since states are at various stages of socio-economic development, they have varied requirements for development.  Therefore, state governments should be allowed to undertake works that are pertinent to their context.  There should be more emphasis on skilled and semi-skilled work under MGNREGA.  In addition, the Committee recommends a greater emphasis on convergence with other schemes such as the National Rural Livelihoods Mission, National Rural Health Mission, etc.
  • Payment of unemployment allowance: Dated receipts for demanded work should be issued so that workers can claim unemployment allowance.  Funds for unemployment allowance should be met by the central government.
  • Regular monitoring: National Level Monitors (NLMs) are deployed by the Ministry of Rural Development for regular and special monitoring of MGNREGA and to enquire into complaints regarding mis-utilisation of funds, etc.  The Committee recommends that the frequency of monitoring by NLMs should increase and appropriate measures should be taken by states based on their recommendations.  Additionally, social audits must mandatorily be held every six months.  The Committee observes that the performance of MGNREGA is better in states with effective social audit mechanisms.
  • Training of functionaries: Training and capacity building of elected representatives and other functionaries of PRIs must be done regularly as it will facilitate their involvement in the implementation of MGNREGA.

 

Government and RBI response to contain a depreciating rupee

The depreciating Indian rupee was a recurring topic of discussion and debate in the Monsoon Session of the Parliament.  The USD/INR exchange rate depreciated 9% during this Monsoon Session, hitting a record low of INR68 to a dollar on August 28.  The Indian Rupee also depreciated 11% against the British Pound and 8% against the Euro during this session.  The rupee depreciation may feed into inflation by affecting the price of imported goods, especially of oil.  However, a cheaper rupee may boost exports, improving the Current Account Deficit (CAD).  This post discusses the reasons for the decline in the value of the rupee, and the steps taken to contain it. The Prime Minister and the Finance Minister made statements in Parliament regarding the economic situation of the country and the currency.  The key reasons cited by the government for the decline in the value of the rupee are:

  • Large Current Account deficit: The current account (net exports of goods and services, remittances, and net dividend payments) has been in a deficit continuously for the last eight years.  Falling growth rate of Indian exports, coupled with a sharp rise in imports, especially of crude oil and gold, have increased this deficit.
  • Weakening capital inflows: The capital account (the net flow of funds through equity investments and borrowings) surplus has been used to finance the current account deficit for many years.  Capital inflows have reduced due to the improving economic situation in the US and other developed countries.  Investors are exiting developing markets in expectation of the US Federal Reserve increasing the interest rates, impacting the currencies of emerging markets, like India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa.
  • Inflation: The PM said that part of the depreciation is attributable to the adjustment of the rupee exchange rate to the inflation differential, i.e. India’s relatively high rate of inflation versus other economies.

Figure 1: Excess of Capital Account surplus over Current Account deficit has been shrinking (in USD million)

Picture2

Source: Reserve Bank of India; PRS. Note: FY refers to financial year; for example, FY06 is financial year 2005-2006. Table 1: Steps taken by the RBI and the government of India to stabilise the currency markets

Issue Details
Capital Outflow The RBI reduced the limit for outbound investment and remittances from India.
Encouraging Capital Inflows RBI has removed administrative restrictions on investment schemes offered by banks to non-resident Indians, and removed ceiling on interest rates on deposit accounts held by NRIs. The government liberalised the FDI limits for 12 sectors, including oil and gas.  A Bill is pending in the Parliament to revise the FDI limit to 49% in the insurance sector. RBI increased the current overseas borrowing limit for banks from 50% to 100%, and allowed it to be converted into rupees and hedged with the RBI at concessional rate. RBI also allowed banks to swap fresh NRI dollar deposits with a minimum duration of 3 years with the RBI.
Limiting Imports and encouraging exports The Finance Ministry increased the customs duty on importing precious metals including gold and platinum. 20% of every lot of import of gold must be exclusively made available for the purpose of export.
Oil Import Needs   RBI decided to provide dollar liquidity to three public sector oil marketing companies (IOC, HPCL and BPCL) to help them meet their entire daily dollar requirements. Government is also considering increasing its import of crude oil from Iran, and pay for it directly in Indian rupees.
Trade Deficit Ministry of Commerce is exploring the possibility of using local currency for trade with major trading partners. RBI allowed exporters and importers more flexibility in management of their forward currency contracts.
Curbing Speculative  in currency RBI increased the short-term emergency borrowing rates for banks. The daily holding requirements under the Cash Reserve Ratio for banks have been modified.
International Cooperation Government increased its currency swap limit with Japan from USD15 billion to USD50 billion. The BRICS nations also agreed on a USD100 billion foreign currency reserve pool as part of their plan to create a BRICS New Development Bank.  India will contribute $18 billion to this fund from its reserves.

Source: Reserve Bank of India; PRS. In response to questions raised about the economic situation in the country, the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister in Parliament emphasised that there were sufficient foreign exchange reserves to meet the external financing needs.  The government targets to limit the fiscal deficit to 4.8% of GDP, and the CAD to under USD70 billion in 2013-14.  More recently, the new RBI Governor, upon taking office on September 4, 2013, re-affirmed the central bank's commitment to sustain confidence in the currency and to gradually liberalise the financial market.At the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, the G-20 agreed to be mindful of the repercussions of the withdrawal of monetary stimulus by developed countries on emerging markets.  The G-20 central banks agreed to “properly calibrate and communicate” their monetary policy to minimise volatility of capital inflows and exchange rates to avoid adverse implications for economic and financial stability in emerging markets.  

Status of Legislation in the 15th Lok Sabha

The ongoing Monsoon Session of Parliament is being widely viewed as the 'make or break' session for passing legislation before the end of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014. Hanging in balance are numerous important Bills, which will lapse if not passed before the upcoming 2014 national elections. Data indicates that the current Lok Sabha has passed the least number of Bills in comparison to other comparable Lok Sabhas. The allocated time to be spent on legislation in the Monsoon Session is also below the time recommended for discussion and passing of Bills by the Business Advisory Committee of the Lok Sabha. Eight out of a total of 16 sittings of the Monsoon Session have finished with only 15 percent of the total time spent productively. Success rate of the 15th Lok Sabha in passing legislation India’s first Lok Sabha (1952-1957)  passed a total of 333 Bills in its five year tenure. Since then, every Lok Sabha which has completed over three years of its full term has passed an average of 317 Bills. Where a Lok Sabha has lasted for less than 3 years, it has passed an average of 77 Bills. This includes the 6th, 9th, 11th and 12th Lok Sabhas. The ongoing 15th Lok Sabha, which is in the fifth year of its tenure, has passed only 151 Bills (This includes the two Bills passed in the Monsoon Session as of August 18, 2013). In terms of parliamentary sessions, Lok Sabhas that have lasted over three years have had an average of fifteen sessions. The 15th Lok Sabha has finished thirteen parliamentary sessions with the fourteenth (Monsoon Session) currently underway. Bills Passed by Lok Sabhas Legislative business accomplished in the 15th Lok Sabha For the 15th Lok Sabha, a comparison of the government's legislative agenda at the beginning of a parliamentary session with the actual number of Bills introduced and passed at the end of the session shows that: (i) on average, government has a success rate of getting 39 percent of Bills passed; and (ii) on average, 60 percent success rate in getting Bills introduced. final2.2 final2.3 The Monsoon Session of Parliament was scheduled to have a total of 16 sitting days between August 5-30, 2013. Of the 43 Bills listed for consideration and passage, 32 are Bills pending from previous sessions. As of August 18, 2013, the Rajya Sabha had passed a total of five Bills while the Lok Sabha had passed none. Of the 25 Bills listed for introduction, ten have been introduced so far. The Budget Session of Parliament earlier this year saw the passage of only two Bills, apart from the appropriation Bills,  of the 38 listed for passing. These were the Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill. Time allocated for legislation in the Monsoon Session The Lok Sabha is scheduled to meet for six hours and the Rajya Sabha for five hours every day.  Both houses have a question hour and a zero hour at the beginning of the day, which leaves four hours for legislative business in the Lok Sabha and three hours in the Rajya Sabha. However, both Houses can decide to meet for a longer duration. For example, Rajya Sabha has decided to meet till 6:00 PM every day in the Monsoon Session as against the normal working hours of the House until 5:00 PM. The Business Advisory Committee (BAC) of both Houses recommends the time that should be allocated for discussion on each Bill. This session's legislative agenda includes a total of 43 Bills to be passed by Parliament.  So far, 30 of the Bills have been allocated time by the BAC, adding up to a total of 78 hours of discussion before passing. If the Lok Sabha was to discuss and debate the 30 Bills for roughly the same time as was recommended by the BAC, it would need a minimum of 20 working days.  In addition, extra working days would need to be allocated to discuss and debate the remaining 13 Bills. With eight sitting days left and not a single Bill being passed by the Lok Sabha, it is unclear how the Lok Sabha will be able to make up the time to pass Bills with thorough debate.  

Cabinet Reshuffles since 2009

Source: www.pib.nic.in Source: www.pib.nic.in

 

Yesterday the Prime Minister reshuffled his Cabinet and inducted four cabinet ministers and four ministers of state.  Since the beginning of the UPA II government, there have been three major Cabinet reshuffles and a number of minor readjustments in the portfolios of ministers. Analysing changes in the portfolios of ministers gives an insight into the churn in the political leadership of the different ministries of the government of India. Until recently there was no central online resource where information could be collated about cabinet reshuffles. The information was scattered between the websites of the President, the Prime Minister and the Press Information Bureau. Since 2012, the Cabinet Secretariat has started putting details about changes in the portfolio of the council of ministers in the public domain. However analysing this information becomes difficult as the information is split into different files and details about the Cabinet reshuffle do not go back till 2009. We have tried to collate data about changes in Cabinet portfolios since May 2009, so that it becomes easily accessible and can be analysed by interested individuals.  The raw data file can be accessed here. This data could be analysed to see which Ministers have shifted across ministries or the average length of tenure of Ministers in different ministries. If you spot interesting trends in the raw data above, please share them with us on twitter@prslegislative We have done a preliminary analysis of the data to see which ministries have had the most changes in Cabinet Ministers since May 2009: - Railway Ministry portfolio has been held by six different Cabinet Ministers [Mamata Banerjee, Dinesh Trivedi, Mukul Roy, C P Joshi (twice), Pawan Kumar Bansal and now Mallikarjun Kharge] - Ministry of Law and Justice, Corporate Affairs and Science and Technology: Four Cabinet Ministers. - Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Civil Aviation, Rural Development, Tourism and Youth and Sports:  Three Cabinet Ministers. - Ministries like Finance, Home, External Affairs, Communications and Information Technology, Human Resource Development:  Two Cabinet Ministers. - Ministries like Agriculture and Non Conventional Energy Sources have the same Ministers from May 2009. This data also helped us put together a brief chronology of Cabinet reshuffles since the beginning of the term of the UPA II government:

23 & 28- May-09 Cabinet sworn in.
31-May-09 Meria Kumar resigns as Minister of Water Resources to become Speaker of Lok Sabha.
19-Apr-10 Shashi Tharoor resigns as Minister of State from the Ministry of External Affairs.
15-Nov-10 A Raja resigns as Minister of Communications and Information Technology. Kapil Sibal gets additional charge of the ministry.
19-Jan-11 First major cabinet reshuffle. Most ministries affected.
12-Jul-11 Second major Cabinet reshuffle. Dinesh Trivedi assumes charge of Railway Ministry after Mamata Banerjee, Salman Khursheed becomes Law Minister, Jairam Ramesh moves to Rural Development. New Ministers like Rajeev Shukla (Parliamentary Affairs) and Jayanthi Natarajan (Environment and Forest) get inducted.
18-Dec-11 RLD joins UPA. Ajit Singh inducted as Minister of Civil Aviation.
20-Mar-12 Dinesh Trivedi resigns and Mukul Roy becomes Railway Minister.
27-Jun-12 Pranab Mukherjee resigns as Finance Minister to fight the presidential election.
31-Jul-12 P Chidambaram moves from Home to Finance Ministry and Sushil Kumar Shinde moves from Power to Home Ministry.
22-Sep-12 Trinamool withdraws support to UPA. All TMC ministers resign. C P Joshi assumes additional charge of Railway Ministry.
28-Oct-12 Third major reshuffle. S M Krishna resigns from Ministry of External Affairs and Salman Khursheed takes over. Ashwani Kumar comes in place of Salman Khursheed in Law and Justice. Ambika Soni resigns and Manish Tiwari takes charge of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Ajay Maken moves from Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to Housing and Urban Poverty Alliviation.
21-Mar-13 DMK withdraws support. All DMK Ministers resign.
11-May-13 Ashwani Kumar and Pawan Kumar Bansal resign. Kapil Sibal takes charge of Ministry of Law and Justice and C P Joshi takes charge of Railways.
16-Jun-13 Ajay Maken and C P Joshi resign.

   

House of Lost Opportunities

The last few days have seen repeated disruptions in Parliament. In an Opinion Editorial published in the Indian Express, Chakshu Roy of PRS Legislative Research discusses the impact of the current disruptions on Parliament. His analysis points to how disruptions are an opportunity lost  to hold the government accountable and to deliberate on significant legislative and policy issues. The second half of the budget session commenced last week with hardly any business transacted due to disruptions on different issues. This is not new. The 15th Lok Sabha has seen entire parliamentary sessions lost without any work being done. As it nears the end of its term, Parliament's productive time stands at 70 per cent, which is significantly lower than that of previous Lok Sabhas. As disruptions in Parliament have become routine, public reaction to such disruptions has also become predictable. Figures depicting the quantum of taxpayers' money lost every hour that Parliament does not function start doing the rounds, and the cry for docking the salary of disrupting members of Parliament becomes louder. What does not get adequate attention is the opportunity lost for holding the government accountable and deliberating on important legislative and policy issues. MPs are required to keep the government in check and oversee its functioning. One of the ways in which they do so is by asking ministers questions about the work done by their ministries. Ministers respond to such questions during the first hour of Parliament, which is known as question hour. During this hour, 20 questions are slotted for oral responses by ministers. Based on the response, MPs can cross-question and corner the minister by asking supplementary questions. On certain occasions, they are also able to extract assurances from the minister to take action on certain issues. When question hour is disrupted, not only are these opportunities lost, it also leads to ineffective scrutiny of the work done by the various ministries of the government. Last week, some of the questions that could not be orally answered related to four-laning of highways, performance of public sector steel companies, supply of food grains for welfare schemes, and generic versions of cancer drugs. In 2012, out of the 146 hours allocated for question hour in both Houses of Parliament, roughly only 57 hours were utilised. Since the beginning of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2009, approximately 43 per cent of the allocated time has been spent on question hour. When Parliament is disrupted regularly, its capacity to make laws is affected. Excluding routine financial legislation, since 2009, the government had planned to introduce 390 bills. So far, it has been able to introduce only 187 of them. It had also planned to have 365 bills scrutinised and passed by Parliament. So far, 96 of them have received parliamentary approval. Disruptions in Parliament also eat into the time available for discussing a bill in the house. In Lok Sabha, roughly 35 per cent of bills were passed with an hour or less of debate, a case being the sexual harassment bill, which was passed by Lok Sabha in September of last year in 16 minutes. Some would argue that since parliamentary committees scrutinise most bills in detail, there is no harm done if the bills are not debated in the House. However scrutiny of a bill behind closed doors is hardly a substitute for spirited debates on the merits and demerits of a bill on the floor of the House. Currently there are 115 bills awaiting parliamentary scrutiny and approval. Important social and economic legislation is currently pending before Parliament. The food security bill, the land acquisition bill, the companies and the goods and services tax bill are just a few of them. Out of the laundry list of pending bills, some are political and may be stuck in Parliament till consensus around them can be built. But there are a number of bills that are administrative in nature, and have no political undercurrents and are possibly not coming up for discussion because of the limited time that is available for legislative debate on account of frequent disruptions. In September 1997, to celebrate the golden jubilee of the country's Independence, a special session of Parliament was convened. At this special session, MPs had resolved to preserve and enhance the dignity of Parliament by adhering to the rules of procedure of Parliament relating to the orderly conduct of parliamentary proceedings. Last year, Parliament completed 60 years since its first sitting. To mark the occasion, another special session of both Houses was convened, where MPs had resolved to uphold the dignity, sanctity and supremacy of Parliament. Ensuring that the proceedings of both Houses run smoothly so that Parliament can discharge its responsibility effectively is the best way of ensuring its supremacy. The question that needs to be asked is whether our members of Parliament are ready to stand by the resolutions that they voluntarily adopted.