Poor performance

The 15th Lok Sabha, whose last and worst session concluded last week, will go down as the most disrupted and least productive in India’s parliamentary history. The performance of parliament has deteriorated over decades but the decline has been the steep in the last five years. Images of pandemoniums, uproars, fisticuffs and finally the use of pepper spray have shocked and scandalised the nation and both Houses were more in a state of  adjournment than in regular sessions of work. Statistics is revealing of the poor record. The number of sittings have  steadily declined over the years. If the previous Lok Sabha approved 248 new bills the present House passed only 177. About 40 per cent of its time was lost to disruptions as against 13 per cent in the previous House. There are 128 bills pending in the House as against 78 in the previous one.  Parliament’s main function is legislation and it failed in discharging it. The numbers are themselves bad but the situation is even worse than indicated by them.

Most of the bills which were passed were approved without adequate consideration and discussion. Parliament is the forum for deliberation and debate. Very few bills were discussed seriously and thoroughly. On the credit side are legislations relating to the Lokpal, food security, land acquisition, the right to education etc but they also saw much uncertainty and acrimony before their passage. The government has the prime responsibility to ensure the smooth functioning of parliament but the opposition’s responsibility is no less. When the term of the present Lok Sabha started,  UPA II was politically stronger than the UPA I government of the last Lok Sabha. But it steadily lost its political and moral strength and authority through successive scams, lack of governance, policy inaction and even cynicism. The opposition thought obstructionism and negative tactics were the best means to expose and weaken the government. Both abdicated their responsibility to the people who elected them.

The decline of parliament is reflective of the decline of democracy. Periodical elections, which are themselves getting more and more vitiated, are not the measure of the strength and vigour of the democratic system. Unless elected representatives work for and in an effective parliament and restore its status and dignity the system itself will be in danger. The solutions will have to come from the members themselves. The nation should hope that the 16th Lok Sabha will fare better.

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