Legislature in decline

Study shows MLAs attended legislature an average of just 28 days in a year, MPs  70. DH Photo/ B H Shivakumar

A report that about half of the newly elected legislators of Karnataka did not attend a workshop organised for them last week may be an indication of how they will conduct themselves in their workplace in future. The workshop was intended to familiarise the legislators with the rules and procedures of the House, but Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar had to tell those who were present of their basic duty, which is to attend the House. The Speaker and the Council chairman Basavaraj Horatti told the members not to miss sessions, to follow the agenda and to listen to all discussions in the House. It is unfortunate that legislators have to be given such advice; rules and procedures have any relevance only when members attend the House. When the House does not meet, and members “while away their time in the lounge”, what are rules and procedures for? The newly elected members may have learnt from their seniors that attendance is not very important, and the veterans have always proved it by example.

A recent PRS Legislative Research study has found that MLAs in India work an average of just 28 days in a year, based on the number of days assemblies sat in the last five years. Karnataka and Kerala saw the best performance of MLAs, and among the major states, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana were at the bottom. Small states like Delhi and Nagaland were even worse, with just 10-20 days of legislative sessions for the whole year. Even in the best performing states, the attendance was only 46 days. Parliament members fared better than MLAs. Lok Sabha members attended House on 70 days and Rajya Sabha MPs 69 days in a year on average. Participation of MPs and MLAs in debates and discussions was also quite low. Many of them were just observers even when they attended the House. A good number of them went there only to sign their attendance. If the days when legislatures did not work because of ruckus and uproar are taken into consideration, the effective days of functioning would be still lower. 

The first Lok Sabha saw 150 sittings in a year. Since then there has been a steady decline in the number of sittings and attendance of MPs. Bills and even budgets are passed without debates and discussions. The quality of debates and the standards of conduct of legislators have deteriorated. Prime Minister Narendra Modi rarely attends parliament, in contrast to the first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who regularly attended it. The decline of the legislature and the deterioration of its functioning are uncomfortable signals. They are signs of the decline and deterioration of the parliamentary system as such. 

 

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Legislature in decline

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