The decline of the Indian Parliament is a topic that is debated in the country in formal and informal circles. It is very important to read about it and understand it for the UPSC exam. Not only is this a topic under polity and governance, it is also a potential topic for the essay paper for the IAS mains.
Despite the fact that the Indian Parliament plays a crucial role as a deliberative and representative assembly, its image and influence have suffered a serious setback in recent years. The decline of Parliament is a recurrent lament all over the democratic world. Even in the case of the so-called Mother of Parliament, in the United Kingdom, the argument appeared in the literature soon after the nineteenth-century heyday of parliamentary supremacy was over by the early twentieth century. According to Prof. M.P. Singh, ‘Even without the growth of a strong party system in the West European sense in India, the other foregoing factors in the years after the ‘Nehru Patel duumvirate’ passed into history and prompted the growth of executive dominance and “Prime ministerial” system in the Nehru and Gandhi was, and to a lesser extent in the Rajiv Gandhi years’. Since the late 1980s, the decline of the Parliament has further continued due to corruption and criminalization of electoral and party political processes on an unprecedented scale. Analysis based on pending criminal cases of MPs (15th Lok Sabha) are as follows: There are 162 newly elected MPs who have declared pending criminal cases according to their self declared affidavits. Out of these, there are 76 MPs having serious cases against them. Here is the high-level summary of the new Lok Sabha:
- Affidavits available for MPs – 543
- MPs with pending criminal cases – 162 (29.83 percent)
- MPs with serious pending cases – 76 (14 percent)
- Total pending criminal cases against MPs – 522
- Total serious IPC sections against MPs – 275
As compared to 2004, the number of MPs with pending criminal cases has gone up. There were 128 MPs with pending criminal cases against them in the 2004 Lok Sabha, out of which 58 had serious pending criminal cases. There is an increase of about 26 percent in MPs with pending criminal cases and 31 percent increase in the number of MPs with serious pending criminal cases. There, however, is a decrease of about 7 percent in the number of serious pending criminal cases on these MPS. Comparison of the nature of serious crime between Lok Sabha 2004 and 2009 and 2010-13 shows that the number of serious cases has reduced from 2004 to 2009. There has been a reduction in the number of violent crimes (cases related to murder, dacoity, kidnapping, etc.), forgery, theft, and cheating. There has been an increase in the number of other crimes like false statements under oath, promoting enmity between different groups, false evidence, etc. At present, the Indian parliament is faced with the problem of declining standards of debates, decorum, and discipline. The problem of absenteeism in the house has increased in proportion to an increase in the indifference of Politicians towards public issues. A nexus between politicians and the business groups corrupts the parliamentary process. Party politics and politics of survival are also responsible for declining standards. Regarding the declining standards of debates constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap says that as the representativeness in the Parliament gets broad-based and people from grass root level enter the parliament, the quality of debates might not remain very high because it has to represent after all the life, culture, deprivations and frustrations of people. Regarding the decorum in the house, he says that parliament reflects the environment in the country and if there are troubles in the environment in the country they are bound to be reflected in the House. Regarding absenteeism, it is said members cannot always be present in the house because attending the session is not their only function and they are responsible to their conscience, country, and constituency and to their party in whatever they do. However, a strict code of conduct should be implemented for regulating their good behavior and attendance in the House. Moreover, disrupting parliamentary activity through walkouts, the staging of dharnas, and gheraos of ministers without reasonable cease are also indicating towards parliamentary decline. For example, during the 9th Lok Sabha in the wake of the demolition of the Ayodhya mosque in 1992, and also caused considerable difficulties for the National United Front governments in 1996-98 during debates over the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), and during the readings of the Bill to introduce reservation of seats for women in parliamentary elections. Today, the parliamentarians lack vision, commitment, quality, and competence for nation-building. They use parliament as a body of legitimization of personal and class dominance by the party. Congress party dominance was another factor, i.e., responsible for the parliamentary decline. The party enjoyed a virtual monopoly in political power for almost 40 years, and its decisions were pushed through the Parliament because of the sheer majority. The rigidity of party discipline is also responsible for the decline of parliament because the members who have got party tickets and owe to the party, mobilize support for them and they have to adhere to the discipline and dictates of the party bosses. In India, with the growth of delegated legislation, law-making has become a highly complicated and technical affair. Actually, in the delegated legislation or subordinate legislation, a great deal of legislation takes place outside the Legislature in government departments, bearing varied nomenclatures, rules, regulations by-laws, schemes, orders, notifications, etc. In fact, due to the lack of necessary data and sufficient time, the parliament is unable to produce the mass of detailed laws that the present obligations of the state required. So, the parliament lays down broad principles of any legislation on hand and delegates its authority to some executive department. These compulsions have led to the decline in powers of the Parliament, thereby leading to an increase in powers of the Executive. A conflict between the Legislative and Judiciary is also a measure cause of the declining role of the Parliament. In Constituent Assembly Jawaharlal Nehru had said, ‘No Supreme Court and no judiciary can stand in judgments over the sovereign will of parliament, representing the will of the entire community. If we go wrong here and there, it can be pointed out, but in the ultimate analysis, where the future of the community is concerned, no judiciary can come in the way ultimately the fact remains that the legislature must be supreme and must not be interfered with by the Court of law in measures of social reforms. At present this debate was taking place at a time when several legislations had been struck down by the apex court, the latest being the constitutional validity of Schedule Nine and the stay granted on implementing the 27 percent quota for OBCs in elite educational institutions. In this scenario, current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Speaker of the Lok Sabha Somnath Chatterjee have advised the judiciary not to transgress their specified area and lamented their ‘interference’ into policy-making by legislators and rules of governance by the administrators. As the Press Trust of India reported through several newspapers on 8 April 2007 in a public lecture there was a virtual debate between the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Prime Minister. Justice Balakrishnan observed, ‘The application to judicial review to determine the constitutionality of the legislation and to review the executive decision sometimes creates tension between the judge and the legislative and the executive branch. Such tension is natural and to some extent desirable: Nothing that the judiciary’s independence was essential to the rule of law, Balakrishnan said, ‘Judicial review was an extraordinary legal invention that seems deceptively simple, but it is one of the most baffling of legal devices. Sometimes it is described mistakenly as veto power over legislation’. In his report, the Prime Minister said, ‘The dividing line between judicial activism and judicial overreach is a thin one. A takeover of the functions of another organ may, at times, because a case of over-reach: Finally, the Prime Minister suggested that the judiciary can deal with a limited number of matters and has too much on hands already; hence, they should not try to review the decisions of the politicians and officials. Moreover, speaking at a colloquium on ‘Relations between the legislature and the judiciary’ organized by Karnataka legislature, Chairman of Administrative Reforms Commission Mr. Veerappa Moily said, ‘The Supreme Court had more than once asked the centre and the States concerned to come out with legislation to govern admissions to professional colleges. It had made it clear in the T.M.A. Pai case of 2002 that its judgment was only temporary in the absence of any law on the issue: To sum up, the parliament has suffered a gradual and of late precipitous such decline since the 1950s when it began its career in the Nehru era in a generally promising way. According to Prof. M.P. Singh, this has happened due to the development of the institution of Public-Interest Litigation (PIL) and the constitutional law of the unnamed ability of the ‘basic structure’ of the constitution. Lately, the Parliament seems to be waking up to the imperative of regaining its lost ground and glory by asserting autonomy from legal encroachment by courts on what goes on within the parliament itself by way of its legitimate proceedings. For example, early in 2006, both the houses promptly expelled nearly a dozen members cutting across party lines who were caught in a sting operation by a TV channel accepting a bribe for raising certain questions on the parliamentary floor. In this scenario, expelled members moved to the Supreme Court and the court issued summons to the presiding officer of both Houses. In reaction to it, a speaker’s conference organized by Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee decided that the presiding officers would refuse to answer and summons as the constitution guarantees autonomy to parliamentary proceedings from any external interference. Therefore, the Indian Parliament is struggling to maintain its dignity in contemporary complicated Indian society. Actually, the constitution-makers designed the parliament as a core institution of our democracy for constituting an egalitarian society based or rule of law, liberty, and equality. But, unfortunately, political immorality, immaturity, indiscipline, and lack of democratic culture have deeply penetrated into our legislative body. Opportunism and corruption have become the watchwords of Indian politics. The evil of criminals in politics has led to the criminalization of politics. ‘Communalism’ and caste-class-gender conflict are used as a weapon of political survival by different political parties. In such a scenario, it can be said that the Indian (Parliamentary) democracy with Parliament as a core institution has failed to mirror the aims and aspirations of the people that are critical for a healthy democracy. The malaise affecting parliament must be cured to restore the prestige and dignity of our Parliamentary democracy with parliament as the prime institution.
The parliamentary control over government and administration in India is more theoretical than practical. In reality, the control is not as effective as it ought to be. The following factors are responsible for this: (a) The Parliament has neither time nor expertise to control the administration which has grown in volume as well as complexity. (b) Parliament’s financial control is hindered by the technical nature of the demands for grants. The parliamentarians being laymen cannot understand them properly and fully. (c) The legislative leadership lies with the Executive and it plays a significant role in formulating policies. (d) The very size of the Parliament is too large and unmanageable to be effective. (e) The majority support enjoyed by the Executive in the Parliament reduces the possibility of effective criticism. (f) The financial committees like Public Accounts Committee examines the public expenditure after it has been incurred by the Executive. Thus, they do post mortem work. (g) The increased recourse to ‘guillotine’ reduced the scope of financial control. (h) The growth of ‘delegated legislation’ has reduced the role of Parliament in making detailed laws and has increased the powers of bureaucracy. (i) The frequent promulgation of ordinances by the president dilutes the Parliament’s power of legislation. (j) The Parliament’s control is sporadic, general, and mostly political in nature. (k) Lack of strong and steady opposition in the Parliament, and a setback in the parliamentary behaviour and ethics, have also contributed to the ineffectiveness of legislative control over administration in India.