From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Constituent assembly
Mains level : Paper 2- Decline in the functioning of legislature
This 75th year of India’s Independence feels like what its first year of freedom may have been like. The pandemic era defined by large-scale loss, lack of adequate state infrastructure and deep economic uncertainty — on the face of it — is reminiscent of the Partition years.
Declining role of Parliament
1) Low functioning
- In 2020, Parliament sat in session for 33 days.
- According to PRS Legislative Research (PRS), in the 2021 Monsoon Session, the Lok Sabha was scheduled to work for six hours per day for 19 days.
- Instead, it sat for 21 hours in total or 21 per cent of what was conceived.
- Brazil’s Parliament used an application called Infoleg during the pandemic and functioned at higher rates than in pre-pandemic times.
- The United States Congress met physically for 113 days in 2020. In the year before, they met for 130 days.
- In the past 10 years, the Rajya Sabha has functioned for less than 25 per cent of its scheduled time.
2) Neglect of the role of Parliamentary Committees
- According to PRS, none of the 15 bills introduced in this Monsoon Session 2021 has been referred to a Parliamentary Committee.
- In this current Lok Sabha commencing 2019, only 12 per cent of the bills introduced have been referred to committee.
- By contrast, the 16th Lok Sabha (2014-2019) had 27 per cent and the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-2014) had 71 per cent of bills referred to standing committees.
- More significantly, fewer and fewer drafts of key legislation are being debated across the political aisle before becoming law.
3) No discussion of supplementary budget
- In this Lok Sabha, nine minutes were spent discussing and passing the supplementary budget that included a Rs 15,750 crore Covid-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Package.
- This is the functioning of the legislature — increasingly convened less and debates are few.
Contrast with functioning of Parliament when country faced partition
- The drafting of India’s Constitution started in December 1946, when the Constituent Assembly first met, seven months before Independence in August 1947.
- What makes these years of our constitutional founding so dramatic, was that the backdrop to our founding was as torturous as this pandemic era.
- As Delhi was slowly filling up with refugees, India’s dual function legislature functioned as Parliament by morning and Constituent Assembly in the afternoon.
- The first Constituent Assembly was meant to comprise 296 members, but its initial session had only 210 members in attendance.
- The assembly faced a boycott by the rest of the members.
- The Constituent Assembly caucus of the founding Congress Party included many members from outside the party.
- These members from across the political-ideological spectrum were able to arrive at decisions using a mixture of techniques of problem-solving, persuasion, bargaining and politicking.
The functioning of the Partition era Constituent Assembly is held up as a model of nation-building. Our political class today needs to learn from the makers of our Constitution and stop the declining role of our Parliament today.