[op-ed snap] How the 16th Lok Sabha fared

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Mains Paper 2: Polity | Parliament & State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges & issues arising out of these

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Anti-defection
Mains level: Effect of Anti-defection law on law making procedure


Context

Performance of 16th Lok Sabha

  • It met for 1,615 hours, 40% lower than all full-term Parliaments.
  • This Lok Sabha sat for 331 days (against a 468-day average for all previous full-term Lok Sabhas), and lost 16% of its time to disruptions.
  • The House was often disrupted by MPs carrying placards, entering the well, and even on occasion, blocking their colleagues from speaking.
  • Question Hour — the Lok Sabha lost a third of this time and the Rajya Sabha 60%; consequently, just 18% of the starred questions in each House got an oral reply.
  • Speaker blaming unruly behaviour for her inability to count the required number of MPs demanding a no-confidence motion but allowing the Union Budget to be passed in the interim.

Important Legislations

  • The Goods and Services Tax was implemented and the bankruptcy code was enacted.
  • The IIM Act gave premier management educational institutions a level of autonomy not available to other public educational institutions.
  • The Juvenile Justice Act allowed children (between 16 and 18 years) accused of committing heinous crimes to be prosecuted as adults.
  • The Prevention of Corruption Act was amended to make bribe-giving an offence.
  • Laws were made requiring a declaration of assets held outside India, and to declare as fugitives those economic offenders who had fled the country.
  • The Aadhaar Act was passed to create a biometric-based identity system.

Manner of bill Passing

  • The Aadhaar Act was passed as a Money Bill .
  • Finance Bills, in the last few years, have included items which have no relation to taxes or to expenditure of the government.
  • The Finance Bill, 2015 included provisions to merge the regulator of commodity exchanges with the Securities and Exchange Board of India.
  • The Finance Bill, 2016 included amendments to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act which relate to donations to non-profits.
  • The Finance Bill, 2017 went further and changed the compositions of 19 quasi-judicial bodies such as the Securities Appellate Tribunal, the National Green Tribunal and the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), and repealed seven other bodies including the Competition Appellate Tribunal.
  • It is difficult to see how these Bills would fall within the narrow definition of Money Bill, as defined in Article 110 of the Constitution.

Need for reviewing Anti-defection Law

  • Triple Talaq Bill and the Citizenship Bill, were passed by the Lok Sabha but will lapse as they were not passed by the Rajya Sabha.
  • They were held in check only due to a lack of majority in the Rajya Sabha; even this check was bypassed occasionally using the Money Bill route.
  • The government could do this as a result of the anti-defection provision which gives complete control of all party votes to the party leadership.
  • This law has converted MPs from being representatives of the people to delegates of the party.
  • If the party in government has a majority of its own, it can have any provision passed; even coalition governments have to convince just a handful of leaders of their alliance partners.

    Way Forward

  • Parliament plays the central role in our democracy by holding the government to account and scrutinising proposed laws and financial priorities.
  • It is time to ponder on how to make this institution more effective.
  • An important step will be by reviewing the anti-defection law that has hollowed out the institution.
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