Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

What is Breach of Privilege motion?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Breach of Privilege

Mains level : Parliamentary privileges

An MP has filed a breach of privilege motion against the Lakshadweep Administrator for denying him permission to visit the islands, preventing him from meeting his cadre and people of the island.

Breach of Privilege

  • The powers, privileges and immunities of either House of the Indian Parliament and of its Members and committees are laid down in Article 105 of the Constitution.
  • Article 194 deals with the powers, privileges and immunities of the State Legislatures, their Members and their committees.
  • Parliamentary privilege refers to the right and immunity enjoyed by legislatures, in which legislators are granted protection against civil or criminal liability for actions done or statements made in the course of their legislative duties.

Answer this PYQ in the comment box:

Q.With reference to the Parliament of India, which of the following Parliamentary Committees scrutinizes and reports to the House whether the powers to make regulations, rules, sub-rules, by-laws etc. conferred by the constitution of delegated by the Parliament are being properly exercised by the Executive within the scope of such delegation?

(a) Committee on Government Assurances

(b) Committee on Subordinate Legislation

(c) Rules Committee

(d) Business Advisory Committee

What constitutes a breach of this privilege?

  • While the Constitution has accorded special privileges and powers to parliamentarians and legislators to maintain the dignity and authority of the Houses, these powers and privileges are not codified.
  • Thus, there are no clear, notified rules to decide what constitutes a breach of privilege, and the punishment it attracts.
  • Any act that obstructs or impedes either House of the state legislature in performing its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any Member or Officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results is treated as a breach of privilege.
  • It is a breach of privilege and contempt to print or publish libel reflecting on the character or proceedings of the House or its Committees or on any member of the House for or relating to his character or conduct as a legislator.

Procedure followed in cases of an alleged breach

  • The Legislative Assembly Speaker or Legislative Council Chairman constitutes a Privileges Committee consisting of 15 members in the Assembly and 11 members in the Council.
  • The members to the committee which has quasi-judicial powers are nominated based on the party strength in the Houses.
  • The Speaker or Chairman first decides on the motions.
  • If the privilege and contempt are found prima facie, then the Speaker or Chairman will forward it to the Privileges Committee by following the due procedure.
  • At present, there is no Privileges Committee in either House of the state legislature.
  • The Committee will seek an explanation from all the concerned, will conduct an inquiry and will make a recommendation based on the findings to the state legislature for its consideration.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Holding states to account

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Scrutinising the States

The article highlights the excessive focus on the Union government and the lack of scrutiny of the functioning of the States in various areas.

Need for focus on the States

  • In discussions on reforms or debates about public expenditure, there is an excessive focus on the Union government.
  • This focus reflects our mindset that there is a “Centre”, though constitutionally, there is no “Centre”. There is the Union government.
  • There is not as much interest in State Finance Commissions and their recommendations as it is in the Union Finance Commission’s recommendations.
  • Alternatively, there is limited scrutiny of state-level expenditure, or fiscal devolution and decentralisation of decision-making within states, or tracking functioning of state legislatures.
  • Most factor markets we seek to reform are on the concurrent list or the state list.

The Annual Review of State Laws 2020: Key findings

  • PRS Legislative Research published this report and it focuses on the legislative work performed by states in the calendar year 2020.
  • The annual review has been done in the pandemic year as 2020 saw the first wave of the pandemic.
  • It covers 19 state legislatures, including the Union territory of Delhi, which together accounts for 90 per cent of the population of the country.

1) Low Productivity

  • As a benchmark, the Parliament met for 33 days in 2020.
  • Pre-2020, these 19 states met for an average of 29 days a year.
  • In 2020, they met for an average of 18 days.
  • When they met in 2020, States passed an average of 22 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills).
  • Karnataka passed 61 Bills, the highest in the country.
  • The lowest was Delhi which passed one Bill, followed by West Bengal and Kerala, which passed two and three Bills respectively.

2) States pass Bills without scrutiny

  • The report states that the State legislatures pass most Bills without detailed scrutiny.
  • In 2020, 59 per cent of the Bills were passed on the same day that they were introduced in the legislature.
  • A further 14 per cent were passed within a day of being introduced.
  • In Parliament, Bills are often referred to Parliamentary Standing Committees for detailed examination.
  • In most states, such committees are non-existent.

3) Information not shared by the legislature

  • Information and data on state legislatures is not easily available.
  • While some state legislatures publish data on a regular basis, many do not have a systematic way of reporting legislative proceedings and business.”
  • Typically, information becomes available when countervailing pressure is generated.
  • Reports like this help to do that.

Consider the question “In discussions on reforms, or debates about public expenditure, there is an excessive focus on the Union government. However, on reforms and public expenditures, we also need to focus on scrutinising the states”. Comment.

 

Conclusion

Scrutinising States on various areas of their functioning is important to hold them accountable. The availability of data from state legislatures is an opportunity to monitor them better.

 

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

No virtual meets of standing committees

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Standing Committees and their functions

Mains level : Paper 2- No virtual meetings of Standing Committees

Confidential nature of meeting not possible in virtual meetings

  • Days after the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha wrote to Chairman to allow virtual meetings of parliamentary standing committees, the Rajya Sabha Secretariat has turned down his plea.
  • Requests to allow virtual meetings of the standing committees were turned down last year as well by Rajya Sabha Chairman and Lok Sabha Speaker.
  • The request was turned down on grounds that virtual meetings would violate the confidential nature of such meetings and that any change to the norms require approval by Parliament.

Matter referred to Committee on Rules

  • The letter by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat points out that the Chairman and Speaker had decided last year, during the first wave of the pandemic, to refer the issue of allowing virtual meetings of parliamentary panels to the Committee on Rules in both Houses.
  • The Committee on Rules, however, did not take up the matter for discussion since Committees started physical meetings as the lockdown restrictions gradually eased in the second half of last year.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Issues with ordinance in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Article 123, Article 213 of the Indian Constitution

Mains level : Paper 2- Issues with the repromulgation of ordinances

Repromulgation of ordinances raises several questions and it also goes against the Supreme Court judgement. The article explains the issues involved.

Ordinance route and issues with it

  • The central government has repromulgated the ordinance that establishes a commission for air quality management in the National Capital Region.
  • This raises questions about the practice of issuing ordinances to make law, and that of re-issuing ordinances without getting them ratified by Parliament.
  • Law making is a legislative function, this power is provided for urgent requirements, and the law thus made has an automatic expiry at the end of six weeks from the time Legislature next meets.

How frequent is the use of ordinance route

  • In the 1950s, central ordinances were issued at an average of 7.1 per year.
  • The number peaked in the 1990s at 19.6 per year, and declined to 7.9 per year in the 2010s. 
  • The last couple of years has seen a spike, 16 in 2019, 15 in 2020, and four till now this year.
  • States have also been using the ordinance route to enact laws.
  • For example, in 2020, Kerala issued 81 ordinances, while Karnataka issued 24 and Maharashtra 21.
  • Kerala has also repromulgated ordinances.

What the Supreme Court said

  • The issue was brought up in the Supreme Court through a writ petition by D.C. Wadhwa.
  • He found out that Bihar had issued 256 ordinances between 1967 and 1981, of which 69 were repromulgated several times, including 11 which were kept alive for more than 10 years.
  • A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, in 1986, ruled that repromulgation of ordinances was contrary to the Constitutional scheme.
  • The judgment did not stop the practice.
  • Instead, the Centre also started to follow the lead of Bihar.
  • For example, in 2013 and 2014, the Securities Laws (Amendment) ordinance was promulgated three times.
  • Similarly, an ordinance to amend the Land Acquisition Act was issued in December 2014, and repromulgated twice – in April and May 2015.
  • The matter came up again in the Supreme Court in  2017, a seven-judge Constitution Bench declared this practice to be unconstitutional and declared it to be a fraud on the Constitution.
  • Even this judgment has been ignored.
  • The Indian Medical Council Amendment Ordinance was issued in September 2018, and reissued in January 2019.

Way forward

  • Ordinances are to tackle exigencies when the legislature is not in session, and expire at the end of six weeks of the next meeting of the legislature.
  • This time period is given for the legislature to decide whether such a law is warranted.
  • Repromulgation is not permitted as that would be a usurpation of legislative power by the executive.
  • As governments, both at the Centre and States, are violating this principle, the legislatures and the courts should check the practice.
  • By not checking this practice, the other two organs are also abdicating their responsibility to the Constitution.

Consider the question “What are the issues with the repormulgation of ordinances by the government? Suggest the measures to deal with the issue.”

Conclusion

As the Supreme Court said, repromulgation would most certainly be a colourable exercise of power for the Government and it needs to be avoided.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Declining importance of Parliament

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Election of the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha

Mains level : Paper 2- Deterioration in functioning of the Parliament and way forward

The article highlight the deterioration in the function of Parliament  and its implications.

Declining seating of houses of Parliament

  • The current Budget session of Parliament ended on Thursday, two weeks ahead of the original plan.
  • This follows the trend of the last few sessions:
  • The Budget session of 2020 was curtailed ahead of the lockdown.
  • A short 18-day monsoon session ended after 10 days as several Members of Parliament and Parliament staff got affected by COVID-19.
  • The winter session was cancelled.
  • As a result, the fiscal year 2020-21 saw the Lok Sabha sitting for 34 days (and the Rajya Sabha for 33), the lowest ever.
  • This has implications for the proper legislative scrutiny of proposed legislation as well as government functioning and finances.
  • There is no reason why Parliament could not adopt remote working and technological solutions, as several other countries did.

Passage of important bills without scrutiny

  • During this session, 13 Bills were introduced, and not even one of them was referred to a parliamentary committee for examination.
  • The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was passed by the Parliament.
  • This bill shifts governance from the legislature and the Chief Minister to the Lieutenant Governor.
  • The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2021, amends the Mines and Minerals Act, 1957 to remove end-use restrictions on mines and ease conditions for captive mines.
  • This Bill was passed by both Houses within a week.
  • The National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development (NaBFID) Bill, 2021 — to create a new government infrastructure finance institution and permit private ones in this sector was passed within three days of introduction.
  • The Insurance (Amendment) Bill, 2021 which increases FDI in insurance companies from 49% to 74% also took just a week between introduction and passing by both Houses.
  • In all, 13 Bills were introduced in this session, and eight of them were passed within the session.
  • This quick work should be read as a sign of abdication by Parliament of its duty to scrutinise Bills, rather than as a sign of efficiency.
  • Also, the percentage of Bills referred to committees declined from 60% and 71% in the 14th Lok Sabha (2004-09) and the 15th Lok Sabha, respectively, to 27% in the 16th Lok Sabha and just 11% in the current one.

Money Bill classification issue

  • The Finance Bills, over the last few years, have contained several unconnected items such as restructuring of tribunals, introduction of electoral bonds, and amendments to the foreign contribution act.
  • Some of the earlier Acts, including the Aadhaar Act and Finance Act, have been referred to a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court.
  • It would be useful if the Court can give a clear interpretation of the definition of Money Bills and provide guide rails within which Bills have to stay to be termed as such.

Passage of Budget without discussion

  • The Constitution requires the Lok Sabha to approve the expenditure Budget of each department and Ministry.
  • The Lok Sabha had listed the budget of just five Ministries for detailed discussion and discussed only three of these; 76% of the total Budget was approved without any discussion.
  • This behaviour was in line with the trend of the last 15 years.

No Deputy Speaker

  • Article 93 of the Constitution states that “… The House of the People shall, as soon as may be, choose two members of the House to be respectively Speaker and Deputy Speaker….”
  • A striking feature of the current Lok Sabha is the absence of a Deputy Speaker.
  • By the time of the next session of Parliament, two years would have elapsed without the election of a Deputy Speaker.

Way forward

  • In order to fulfil its constitutional mandate, it is imperative that Parliament functions effectively.
  • This will require making and following processes:
  • 1) Creating a system of research support to Members of Parliament.
  • 2) Providing sufficient time for MPs to examine issues.
  • 3 )Requiring that all Bills and budgets are examined by committees and public feedback is taken.

Consider the question “Parliament as a representative body is expected to examine all legislative proposals, understand their nuances and implications and decide on the appropriate way forward. Yet, more and more Bills are passed without enough deliberations. What are the implications of it? Suggest the measures to deal with it.”

Conclusion

In sum, Parliament needs to ensure sufficient scrutiny over the proposals and actions of the government.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

What is No-Confidence Motion?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Motion of No-Confidence, FLoor Test

Mains level : Motion of No-Confidence

The no-confidence motion moved against the coalition government in Haryana was defeated.

Motion of No-Confidence

  • If the government has to demonstrate its strength on the floor of the House, it can have a motion of confidence.
  • However, the opposition parties (or any member) can move a motion expressing want of confidence (no confidence) in the Council of Ministers.
  • The procedure is laid down under Rule 198 of the rules of procedure and conduct of the business of the Lok Sabha.
  • A no-confidence motion need not set out any grounds on which it is based.
  • Even when grounds are mentioned in the notice and read out in the House, they do not form part of the no-confidence motion.

Try this PYQ:

Consider the following statements regarding a No-Confidence Motion in India:

  1. There is no mention of a No-Confidence Motion in the Constitution of India.
  2. A Motion of No-Confidence can be introduced in the Lok Sabha only.

Which of the statements given above is / are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Its procedure

  • A no-confidence motion can be moved by any member of the House.
  • It can be moved only in the Lok Sabha and not Rajya Sabha.
  • Rule 198 of the Rules of Procedure and conduct of Lok Sabha specifies the procedure for moving a no-confidence motion.
  • The member has to give written notice of the motion before 10 am which will be read out by the Speaker in the House.
  • A minimum of 50 members have to accept the motion and accordingly, the Speaker will announce the date for discussion for the motion.
  • The allotted date has to be within 10 days from the day the motion is accepted. Otherwise, the motion fails and the member who moved the motion will be informed about it.
  • If the government is not able to prove its majority in the House, then the government of the day has to resign.

How is the voting done?

These are the modes by which voting can be conducted:

  1. Voice vote: In a voice vote, the legislators respond orally.
  2. Division vote: In case of a division vote, voting is done using electronic gadgets, slips or in a ballot box.
  3. Ballot vote: The ballot box is usually a secret vote – just like how people vote during state or parliamentary elections.

What happens if there is a tie?

  • Following the vote, the person who has the majority will be allowed to form the government.
  • In case there is a tie, the speaker can cast his vote.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Live Telecast of Parliament Proceedings

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : LSTV, RSTV

Mains level : Parliamentary behavior and decency

Lok Sabha Television (LSTV) and Rajya Sabha Television (RSTV) have been merged into a single ‘Sansad TV’.

Live telecast of parliament

  • Lok Sabha TV is the older of the two — it started operating on July 24, 2006.
  • The channel’s vision, according to its website, is to reach the “live proceedings of the Parliament House…to every household”.
  • This is because awareness of citizens towards the working of Member of Parliament in the Parliament House helps in bringing awareness about various efforts of various stakeholders in the governance process.
  • The information empowers the citizens to utilise their democratic rights diligently and be part of the democratic ecosystem.

Do you know?

The Union Budget allocates funds for the running of channels.

Inception of the idea

  • LSTV was the brainchild of former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee.
  • People familiar with the circumstances in which the channel was set up, said that then Rajya Sabha Chairman Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was not really convinced with Chatterjee’s proposal.
  • It was during his time of Shekhawat’s successor, Hamid Ansari, that the separate channel for the Upper House materialized.

Before the channels

  • Before LSTV started functioning as a channel, select parliamentary proceedings had been televised since December 20, 198.
  • On April 18, 1994, the entire proceedings of Lok Sabha started to be filmed.
  • And in August that year, a Low Power Transmitter (LPT) was set up and made operational in Parliament House to telecast the proceedings live.
  • From December 1994, Question Hour in both Houses was telecast live on alternate weeks on Doordarshan.
  • It was arranged in such a manner that during the telecast of the Question Hour of one House by Doordarshan, the Question Hour of the other House was broadcast by All India Radio.
  • When the DD News channel was launched, Question Hour in both Houses started getting telecast simultaneously on DD channels.

Separate channels

  • But it was only after a decade, in December 2004, that a separate dedicated satellite channel was set up for the live telecast of the proceedings of both Houses.
  • In 2006, LSTV started airing the proceedings of the Lower House live.
  • RSTV was launched in 2011. Apart from telecasting live the proceedings in Rajya Sabha, it also brings analyses of parliamentary affairs and provides a platform for knowledge-based programmes.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Voice vote as constitutional subterfuge

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bicameralism

Mains level : Paper 2- Importance of bicameralism

The article discusses the issue of undermining of the upper house by passing the certain bills through voice vote and use of money bill route.

Passing of the Bill by voice vote

  • The Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill was passed by the State’s Legislative Council by voice vote without any division.
  • The law was passed by the Council despite the lack of a majority.
  • There was no division vote based on actual voting as is usual and as the Opposition members had demanded.

A new legislative precedent

  • Similar process was followed to pass the controversial farm laws (by the Rajya Sabha) in September 2020.
  • The pandemonium in the House caused by heated interventions by the Opposition was used as a pretext to resort to a voice vote.
  • The laws passed with a voice vote seem like a new template for bypassing the constitutionally envisaged legislative process.
  • Another process repeatedly used over the last few years to bypass the Upper House of Parliament is the Money Bill route.
  • The Aadhaar Bill was passed in this manner.
  • Other controversial laws such as those pertaining to electoral bonds, retrospective validation of foreign political contributions and the overhaul of the legal regime relating to tribunals have also been carried out through the Money Bill route.

The Rajya Sabha’s role

  • The Lok Sabha is seen as directly representing the will of the people, and the Rajya Sabha as standing in its way.
  • The countervailing function of the Upper House is rarely seen as legitimate.
  • The Rajya Sabha has historically stopped the ruling party from carrying out even more significant legal changes.
  • The Rajya Sabha is imperfect, partly because of constitutional design.
  • And partly because obviously undesirable practices, such as members representing States they have no affiliation to, have been allowed to flourish.

Importance of bicameralism

  • The very questioning of the monopoly of the Lower House to represent the ‘people’ makes bicameralism desirable, argues legal philosopher Jeremy Waldron.
  • In India, the fact that the Rajya Sabha membership is determined by elections to State Assemblies leads to a different principle of representation, often allowing different factors to prevail than those in the Lok Sabha elections.
  • John Stuart Mill had warned about a single assembly becoming despotic and overweening, if released from the necessity of considering whether its acts will be concurred in by another constituted authority.
  • The other merit of bicameralism is significant in a Westminster system like India, where the Lower House is dominated by the executive.
  • The Rajya Sabha holds the potential of a somewhat different legislative relation to the executive, making a robust separation of powers possible.

Consider the question “Examine the importance of bicameralism in India. Why passage of certain bills as money bill is causing controversies?”

Conclusion

The important role played by the upper house needs to be recognised and respected in the legislative processess.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

What is a Money Bill?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Money Bill , Art 110

Mains level : Money Bill- Finance Bill issue

In a pre-emptive move, the opposition has written to Lok Sabha Speaker, urging him not to bypass the Rajya Sabha by declaring key Bills as “money bills”.

What is a Money Bill?

  • A money bill is defined by Article 110 of the Constitution, as a draft law that contains only provisions that deal with all or any of the matters listed therein.
  • These comprise a set of seven features, broadly including items such as-
  1. Imposition, abolition, remission, alteration or regulation of any tax
  2. Regulation of the borrowing of money by the GOI
  3. Custody of the Consolidated Fund of India (CFI) or the Contingency Fund of India, the payment of money into or the withdrawal of money from any such fund
  4. Appropriation of money out of the CFI
  5. Declaration of any expenditure charged on the CFI or increasing the amount of any such expenditure
  6. Receipt of money on account of the CFI or the public account of India or the custody or issue of such money, or the audit of the accounts of the Union or of a state
  7. Any matter incidental to any of the matters specified above.

Who controls such bills?

  • In the event proposed legislation contains other features, ones that are not merely incidental to the items specifically outlined, such a draft law cannot be classified as a money bill.
  • Article 110 further clarifies that in cases where a dispute arises over whether a bill is a money bill or not, the Lok Sabha Speaker’s decision on the issue shall be considered final.

What surrounds the ‘Money Bill’ controversy?

  • While all Money Bills are Financial Bills, all Financial Bills are not Money Bills.
  • For example, the Finance Bill which only contains provisions related to tax proposals would be a Money Bill.
  • However, a Bill that contains some provisions related to taxation or expenditure, but also covers other matters would be considered a Financial Bill.
  • Again, the procedure for the passage of the two bills varies significantly. The Rajya Sabha (where the ruling party might not have the majority) has no power to reject or amend a Money Bill.
  • However, a Financial Bill must be passed by both Houses of Parliament.
  • The Speaker (nonetheless, a member of the ruling party) certifies a Bill as a Money Bill, and the Speaker’s decision is final.
  • Also, the Constitution states that parliamentary proceedings, as well as officers responsible for the conduct of business (such as the Speaker), may not be questioned by any Court.

Back2Basics:

What is Finance Bill?

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

What is Division Voting?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Division vote

Mains level : Not Much

Parliament saw the first instance of division voting in times of the pandemic, with Major Ports Authorities Bill 2020 passed in Rajya Sabha as members voted through slips in view of social distancing norms in place.

What is the news?

  • The Bill provides for the regulation of major ports and will replace the Major Port Trusts Act of 1963, and a board of Major Port Authority for each major port will replace the current port trusts.
  • The Opposition has charged that the Bill is aimed at privatization of ports.
  • Opposition members said the legislation would adversely affect states’ rights.

What is Division Voting?

  • A motion is a binary question raised in Parliament for a decision to be taken by MPs.
  • A division is a type of voting which records how each MP voted on a motion.
  • There are three methods of holding a Division i.e.
  1. By operating  the  Automatic  Vote  Recorder
  2. By distributing ‘Ayes’  and  ‘Noes’  slips  in  the  House  and
  3. By members going into  the  Lobbies
  • However, the method of recording of votes in Lobbies has become obsolete ever since the installation of  Automatic  Vote Recording machine.
  • This procedure has not been used for the last two decades

Not a usual practice

In spite of the advantages offered by division, it is not the default method of voting in Parliament.

  • The division is only mandated for a set of motions which require a special majority of the house to be passed.
  • For example, constitutional amendment bills have to be passed by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of the House “present and voting”.
  • To ensure that this condition is fulfilled, a division is called for. On other occasions, individual MPs have to ask for a division.
  • During the term of the last Lok Sabha (2014-19), voting by division was held only on 108 occasions. Only half of these were asked for by MPs, the other half related to constitutional amendment bills.

What is the preferred method?

  • The preferred method for making decisions in Parliament is through a voice vote.
  • In this method, MPs orally convey their agreement or disagreement to a motion.
  • It clubs the individual decisions of MPs in one loud chorus of “Ayes” or “Noes”.
  • Being an oral vote, it does not put on parliamentary record the stand of political parties and individual MPs on contentious political issues.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

What is Breach of Privilege?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Breach of Priviliges in Legislation

Mains level : Parliamentary control

An MP has issued a breach of privilege notice against an MP from Bengal in the Lok Sabha.

Try this PYQ:

Q.With reference to the Parliament of India, which of the following Parliamentary Committees scrutinizes and reports to the House whether the powers to make regulations, rules, sub-rules, by-laws etc. conferred by the constitution of delegated by the Parliament are being properly exercised by the Executive within the scope of such delegation?

(a) Committee on Government Assurances

(b) Committee on Subordinate Legislation

(c) Rules Committee

(d) Business Advisory Committee

What is the news?

  • The accused MP has cast some aspersions with respect to the conduct of a judge.
  • The question is whether the conduct of a judge can be discussed on the floor of the House or not.
  • Article 121 of the Constitution does not allow allegations to be levelled against a sitting or a former judge.

Breach of Privilege

  • The powers, privileges and immunities of either House of the Indian Parliament and of its Members and committees are laid down in Article 105 of the Constitution.
  • Article 194 deals with the powers, privileges and immunities of the State Legislatures, their Members and their committees.
  • Parliamentary privilege refers to the right and immunity enjoyed by legislatures, in which legislators are granted protection against civil or criminal liability for actions done or statements made in the course of their legislative duties.

What constitutes a breach of this privilege?

  • While the Constitution has accorded special privileges and powers to parliamentarians and legislators to maintain the dignity and authority of the Houses, these powers and privileges are not codified.
  • Thus, there are no clear, notified rules to decide what constitutes a breach of privilege, and the punishment it attracts.
  • Any act that obstructs or impedes either House of the state legislature in performing its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any Member or Officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results is treated as a breach of privilege.
  • It is a breach of privilege and contempt to print or publish libel reflecting on the character or proceedings of the House or its Committees or on any member of the House for or relating to his character or conduct as a legislator.

Procedure followed in cases of an alleged breach

  • The Legislative Assembly Speaker or Legislative Council Chairman constitutes a Privileges Committee consisting of 15 members in the Assembly and 11 members in the Council.
  • The members to the committee which has quasi-judicial powers are nominated based on the party strength in the Houses.
  • The Speaker or Chairman first decides on the motions.
  • If the privilege and contempt are found prima facie, then the Speaker or Chairman will forward it to the Privileges Committee by following the due procedure.
  • At present, there is no Privileges Committee in either House of the state legislature.
  • The Committee will seek an explanation from all the concerned, will conduct an inquiry and will make a recommendation based on the findings to the state legislature for its consideration.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Need for rigorous scrutiny of constitutionality of the bills

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Judicial scrutiny of the laws

Mains level : Paper 2- Need for strict scrutiny of the laws by the Parliament

Farmers’  protests against the farm laws and staying of  implementation of these laws by the judiciary have once again brought into focus the process followed in the passage of laws by the parliament. This article highlights the importance of parliamentary committees.

Need for introspection on the role of parliament

  • The Supreme Court’s order on the farm laws staying their implementation crossed the line of separation between the legislature and judiciary.
  • The order should trigger introspection in Parliament.
  • Since 2019, the constitutionality of statutes passed by it, like the abrogation of Article 370, the Citizenship Amendment Act and recently the farm laws, has been challenged before the SC.
  • The highest lawmaking body should be asking itself whether it rigorously scrutinises the constitutionality of bills.

Three mechanisms to examine the constitutionality

  • Parliament has three mechanisms for examining whether a government bill adheres to constitutional principles.
  • First, any member of the Parliament can oppose the introduction of a bill by stating that it initiates legislation outside the legislative competence of the Parliament.
  • Second, MPs also get an opportunity to discuss a bill’s constitutionality while debating it in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
  • But on both these occasions, the strength of the argument does not determine the legislative outcome.
  • The Parliament’s decision depends on the numbers that the treasury and opposition benches command on the house floor.
  • Third, the opportunity for probing a bill’s constitutionality arises when a parliamentary committee is examining it.

Advantages of scrutiny of the bill by  parliamentary committee

  • The most important opportunity of the above mentioned three opportunities is scrutiny by the parliamentary committee.
  • In the past too, the parliamentary committees have subjected the bills to strict scrutiny on the issue of constitutionality.
  • For example, the committee examining the land acquisition bill 2011 was concerned about the bill infringing upon the state governments’ power.
  • Similarly, during the deliberations on the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016, the joint committee explicitly asked the government whether the bill would violate the spirit of Articles 14 and 25 of the Constitution.
  • The committee process also has the advantage of drawing on constitutional expertise outside of the law ministry.
  • The government has also fielded the attorney general to appear before parliamentary committees.

Weakness of parliamentary committee process

  • Our parliamentary committee process has a fatal flaw.
  • Government bills do not automatically go to committees for examination.
  • Ministers get an option to refer their bill to a select committee, they often don’t exercise this option.
  • While countries like Sweden and Finland pass their bills through two parliamentary committees.
  • One committee looks at the technical aspects of a proposed law, and a specialised committee focuses on a bill’s constitutional validity.

Consider the question “Several laws passed by the government have been challenged before the judiciary on the ground of unconstitutionality. This highlights the importance of strict scrutiny of the bills by the Parliament. In light of this, examine the role played by the parliamentary committees in the scrutiny of the bills.” 

Conclusion

Lack of robust scrutiny processes weakens Parliament’s image as the highest legislative institution and encourages judicial encroachment on its powers. After all, lawmaking should not be a mechanical stamping of the government’s legislative proposals but their careful examination by the Parliament.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Centre’s scrutiny of UP’s conversion ban ordinance

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Art 123, Art 213

Mains level : Not Much

The ordinance on unlawful religious conversions, promulgated by the UP government last year, has not been sent to the Centre for examination, according to a reply from the Union Home Ministry.

What is the news?

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) examines bills passed by State assemblies that are repugnant with Central laws before they get the President’s assent to become a law.
  • This is done in accordance with Article 213 of the Constitution which provides for an ordinance making power of the Governor of a state.

What does Article 213 say?

  • Governor of an Indian state draws ordinance making power from Article 21.
  • This Article empowers the Governor to promulgate Ordinance, during the recess of the legislature, if circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action.
  • To issue an Ordinance, the Governor must be satisfied with the circumstances that make it necessary for him to take immediate action.
  • All Ordinances promulgated by the Governor in the State have the same effect and force as an Act of Legislature of the State.
  • The Ordinance must be laid before the State Legislature when it reassembles and it must be upheld by the State legislature, failure to which the Ordinance would be invalid.

Governor CANNOT promulgate an ordinance if:

  1. The Ordinance has the provisions which of embodied in a bill would require President’s sanction.
  2. The Ordinance has the provisions which the governor would reserve as a Bill containing them for the President’s sanction.
  3. If an act of the State Legislature has the same provisions that would be invalid without the assent of the President.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Which of the following are the discretionary powers given to the Governor of a State?

  1. Sending a report to the President of India for imposing the President’s rule
  2. Appointing the Ministers
  3. Reserving certain bills passed by the State Legislature for consideration of the President of India
  4. Making the rules to conduct the business of the State Government

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 1 and 3 only

(c) 2, 3 and 4 only

(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

Centre’s scrutiny of ordinances

  • MHA sends State bills for inter-ministerial consultation before they get the President’s nod.
  • This is done only when it has repugnancy with central laws, deviates from national or central policy and when it can be challenged for legal and constitutional validity.

Controversy with UP’s ordinance

  • The controversial ordinance was promulgated in November 2020 and so far more than 90 people, most of them minorities, have been booked.
  • The law makes religious conversion a non-bailable offence, inviting penalties of up to 10 years in prison.
  • It is on the ground if guilty is found to be effected for marriage or through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or other alleged fraudulent means.
  • According to the Ordinance, in case of conversion done by a woman for the sole purpose of marriage, the marriage would be declared null and void.

Back2Basics: Ordinance

  • Article 123 of the Constitution of India gives the power and authority to the President of India to issue an ordinance only when both the Houses of Parliament are not in session.
  • In addition, it states that any ordinance can have the same force and effect as a statute of Parliament only if it is laid before both the houses of the Parliament.
  • Further, Ordinance so made will hold good only for the duration of six weeks from the reassembly of Parliament.
  • Article 213 mandates near-identical terms with respect to the ordinances on the subject of State authority.
  • It is understood that the authority to issue ordinances shall be used only to meet the emergent demands arising out of extraordinary situations.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

President’s address in Parliament

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : President’s address

Mains level : Significance of Presidential address

Many Opposition parties announced their decision to boycott the President’s address to the joint sitting of Parliament at the start of the Budget session in solidarity with the farmers protesting against the three farm laws.

Try this PYQ:

Q. The President’s address is one of the most solemn occasions in the Parliamentary calendar. Discuss. Highlight its importance in Parliamentary Democracy.

President’s address

  • The Constitution gives the President the power to address either House or a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament.
  • Article 87 provides two special occasions on which the President addresses a joint sitting. The first is to address the opening session of a new legislature after a general election.
  • The second is to address the first sitting of Parliament each year. A session of a new or continuing legislature cannot begin without fulfilling this requirement.
  • When the Constitution came into force, the President was required to address each session of Parliament.

In the UK, the history of the monarch addressing the Parliament goes back to the 16th century.  In the US, President Gorge Washington addressed Congress for the first time in 1790.

History & precedent

  • In India, the practice of the President addressing Parliament can be traced back to the Government of India Act of 1919.
  • This law gave the Governor-General the right of addressing the Legislative Assembly and the Council of State.
  • The law did not have a provision for a joint address but the Governor-General did address the Assembly and the Council together on multiple occasions.
  • There was no address by him to the Constituent Assembly (Legislative) from 1947 to 1950.
  • And after the Constitution came into force, President Rajendra Prasad addressed members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha for the first time on January 31, 1950.

By the govt, about the govt

  • The President’s speech essentially highlights the government’s policy priorities and plans for the upcoming year. The address provides a broad framework of the government’s agenda and direction.
  • There is no set format for the President’s speech. The Constitution states that the President shall “inform Parliament of the cause of the summons”.

How it is done in India?

  • The speech that the President reads is the viewpoint of the government and is written by it.
  • Usually, in December, the PM’s Office asks the various ministries to start sending in their inputs for the speech.
  • A message also goes out from the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs asking ministries to send information about any legislative proposals that need to be included in the President’s address.
  • All this information is aggregated and shaped into a speech, which is then sent to the President. The government uses the President’s address to make policy and legislative announcements.

Assembly debates on the matter

  • During the making of the Constitution, Prof K T Shah wanted the President’s address to be more specific.
  • He suggested that the language be changed to specify that the President shall inform Parliament “on the general state of the Union including financial proposals, and other particular issues of policy he deems suitable for such address”.
  • His amendment was inspired by the US Constitution, according to which the President gives to Congress information on the State of the Union, and recommend measures as he shall judge necessary.
  • But Shah’s amendment was rejected by the Constituent Assembly.
  • The address of the President follows a general structure in which it highlights the government’s accomplishments from the previous year and sets the broad governance agenda for the coming year.

Notable addresses till date

  • In 1985 President Giani Zail Singh announced that PM Rajiv Gandhi’s government intended to introduce a new national education policy and the anti-defection law.
  • In 1996, PM Vajpayee’s 13-day government announced its intention of giving statehood to Uttaranchal and Vananchal (Jharkhand) and 33 percent reservation to women in legislatures.
  • During his second stint in 1999, Vajpayee’s government mooted the idea of a fixed term for Lok Sabha and State Vidhan Sabhas.
  • After the devastating tsunami of 2004, PM Manmohan Singh’s government used the President’s Address to announce the creation of a national law for disaster management.

Procedure & tradition

  • In the days following the President’s address, a motion is moved in the two Houses thanking the President for his address.
  • This is an occasion for MPs in the two Houses to have a broad debate on governance in the country.
  • The PM replies to the motion of thanks in both Houses and responds to the issues raised by MPs.
  • The motion is then put to vote and MPs can express their disagreement by moving amendments to the motion.

Role of the opposition

  • Opposition MPs have been successful in getting amendments passed to the motion of thanks in Rajya Sabha on five occasions (1980, 1989, 2001, 2015, 2016).
  • They have been less successful in Lok Sabha. For example in 2018, Lok Sabha MPs tabled 845 amendments of which 375 were moved and negated.

Significance of the address

  • The President’s address is one of the most solemn occasions in the Parliamentary calendar.
  • It is the only occasion in the year when the entire Parliament, i.e. the President, Lok Sabha, and Rajya Sabha come together.
  • The event is associated with ceremony and protocol.
  • The Lok Sabha Secretariat prepares extensively for this annual event.
  • In the past, it used to get 150 yards of red baize cloth from the President’s house for the ceremonial procession.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Making a Law ‘Operational’

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Art. 111, Presidents assent

Mains level : Law-making process

In the ongoing stalemate between protesting farmers and the Centre, the government has repeated its offer of keeping the three contentious farm laws on hold for one to one-and-a-half years.

Bringing/removing a law

  • Parliament has the power to make a law and to remove it from the statute books (a law can be struck down by the judiciary if it is unconstitutional).
  • But the passing of a Bill does not mean that it will start working from the next day.
  • There are three more steps for it to become a functioning law.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Who/Which of the following is the custodian of the Constitution of India?

(a) The President of India

(b) The Prime Minister of India

(c) The Lok Sabha Secretariat

(d) The Supreme Court of India

Making a law operational

  • The first step is the President giving his or her assent to the Bill.
  • Then the law comes into effect from a particular date. President Kovind signed the three farm Bills into law within a week of their passing in September 2020.
  • And finally, the government frames the rules and regulations to make the law operational on the ground.
  • The completion of these steps determines when the law becomes functional.

Presidents’ actions

  • Article 111 of the Constitution specifies that the President can either sign off on the Bill or withhold his consent.
  • The President rarely withholds their assent to a Bill.
  • The last time it happened was in 2006 when President APJ Abdul Kalam refused to sign a Bill protecting MPs from disqualification for holding an office of profit.
  • A Bill is sent to Parliament for reconsideration if the President withholds his or her assent on it.
  • And if Parliament sends it back to the President, he or he has no choice but to approve it.

A curious case of date of effect

  • The next step is deciding the date on which the law comes into effect.
  • In many cases, Parliament delegates to the government the power to determine this date.
  • The Bill states that the law “shall come into force on such date as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, appoint and different dates may be appointed for different provisions of this Act”.

Example:  Parliament passed the Recycling of Ships Act in December 2019. In October 2020, the government brought Section 3 of the law into force.  This section empowers the government to designate an officer to supervise all ship recycling activities in India.

Giving effect to the implementation

  • There are also instances when the government does not bring a law into force for many years.
  • Two examples are the National Environment Tribunal Act and the Delhi Rent Control Act, which Parliament passed during PM P V Narasimha Rao’s tenure.
  • The government never brought these laws into force, which were passed in 1995 and cleared by the President.
  • The NGT Act finally repealed the environmental tribunal law in 2010. And a Bill to repeal the Delhi Rent Control Act introduced in 2013 is still pending in Rajya Sabha

Rules & regulations to be made

  • For the law to start working on the ground, individuals need to be recruited or given the power, to administer it.
  • The implementing ministry also needs to finalise forms to gather information and provide benefits or services.
  • These day-to-day operational details are called rules and regulations. And Parliament gives the government the responsibility of making them. These regulations are critical for the functioning of law.
  • If the government does not make rules and regulations, law or parts of it will not get implemented.

Example: The Benami Transactions Act of 1988 is an example of a complete law remaining unimplemented. For 25 years, such properties were immune from seizure in the absence of framing relevant government rules. The law was finally repealed in 2016 and replaced with a new one.

A final word on implementation

  • Parliament has recommended that the government make rules within six months of passing a law.
  • But parliamentary committees have observed that this recommendation is being followed in breach by various ministries.
  • The government not only has the power to make rules but can also suppress rules made by it earlier.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Question Hour to resume during Budget Session

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Question Hour

Mains level : Parliamentary control

Question Hour, which had been suspended by the government during the monsoon session, will resume when Parliament meets for the budget session.

Q.Discuss the various instruments of Parliamentary Control in India.

Must read edition: [Burning Issue] Quashing of the Question Hour

What is Question Hour?

  • Question Hour is the liveliest hour in Parliament. It is during this one hour that MPs ask questions of ministers and hold them accountable for the functioning of their ministries.
  • Prior to Independence, the first question asked of government was in 1893. It was on the burden cast on village shopkeepers who had to provide supplies to touring government officers.
  • The questions that MPs ask are designed to elicit information and trigger suitable action by ministries.
  • Over the last 70 years, MPs have successfully used this parliamentary device to shine a light on government functioning.
  • Their questions have exposed financial irregularities and brought data and information regarding government functioning to the public domain.
  • With the broadcasting since 1991, Question Hour has become one of the most visible aspects of parliamentary functioning.

Its evolution

  • The right to question the executive has been exercised by members of the House from the colonial period.
  • The first Legislative Council in British India under the Charter Act, 1853, showed some degree of independence by giving members the power to ask questions to the executive.
  • Later, the Indian Council Act of 1861 allowed members to elicit information by means of questions.
  • However, it was the Indian Council Act, 1892, which formulated the rules for asking questions including short notice questions.
  • The next stage of the development of procedures related to questions came up with the framing of rules under the Indian Council Act, 1909, which incorporated provisions for asking supplementary questions by members.
  • The Montague-Chelmsford reforms brought forth a significant change in 1919 by incorporating a rule that the first hour of every meeting was earmarked for questions. Parliament has continued this tradition.
  • In 1921, there was another change. The question, on which a member desired to have an oral answer, was distinguished by him with an asterisk, a star. This marked the beginning of starred questions.

Its significance

  • Question Hour is not only an opportunity for the members to raise questions, but it is a parliamentary device primarily meant for exercising legislative control over executive actions.
  • The government’s actions erode the constitutional mandate of parliamentary oversight over executive actions as envisaged under Article 75 (3) of the Indian Constitution.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Issues over Parliament Canteen Subsidy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Parliamentary behavior and decency

Food served in Parliament canteen is set to cost more as it will no longer be subsidised, Lok Sabha Speaker has informed.

I say there is no darkness, but ignorance.

-William Shakespeare

Why in news?

  • The low rate of food in the Parliament canteen has often attracted controversy, with critics objecting to lawmakers enjoying a cheap meal at the taxpayers’ expense.
  • Others have pointed out that the subsidy doesn’t benefit just MPs, as a host of other Parliament staff and security personnel also take their meals at the canteen.
  • However, in 2019, all MPs had unanimously decided to do away with the subsidy.
  • The annual revenue from Parliament catering was to the tune of Rs 15 to Rs 18 crore. It could annually save more than Rs 8 crore with the subsidy coming to an end.

Parliament Canteen Subsidy

  • A major furore over the subsidy had erupted in 2015 when a reply to an RTI query which revealed that the canteen got a subsidy of Rs 14 crore every year.
  • The item list received under the RTI Act revealed that items like ‘fish fried with chips’ were available at Rs 25, mutton cutlet at Rs 18, boiled vegetables at Rs 5, mutton curry with bone at Rs 20 and masala dosa at Rs 6.
  • These were the rates subsidised by 63 per cent, 65 per cent, 83 per cent, 67 per cent and 75 per cent respectively.
  • The caterers were being paid by the Ministry of Finance through Parliament.

Was the entire amount being spent on MPs’ food?

  • Apart from food, the subsidy is used for other expenses, like salaries of canteen staff. Also, many other people apart from the MPs use the canteen.
  • In fact, when the RTI query had been filed in 2015, the sales in the canteen for when Parliament was in session and when it wasn’t were almost the same.
  • Of the total subsidy of Rs 14 crore revealed by the RTI query, about Rs 11-12 crore would go towards the salary of the staff manning the canteen.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

SC says it intends to stay farm laws

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Farmers agitation

The Supreme Court has intended to stay the implementation of the controversial agricultural laws while proposing to form an independent committee chaired by a former CJI to resolve the stand-off between the protesting farmers and the Union government.

Q.The judicial systems in India and the UK seem to be converging as well as diverging in recent times. Highlight the key points of convergence and divergence between the two nations in terms of their judicial practices. (150W, CS Mains 2020)

Halting the farm laws

  • The Parliament’s power to legislate, drawn from Article 254(1) of the Constitution, can only be restricted if the law violates the Constitution.
  • How the Supreme Court operationalizes its suggestion to stay the operation of the three farm laws and open fresh talks via a committee will be evident.
  • The Supreme Court has previously set up committees, delegating some of its powers to the members to implement or oversee a law or an order of the court.
  • A line of precedents shows that courts have been very cautious while passing interim orders to stay laws passed by the Legislature.

Narrow grounds

The implementation of a law can be halted on two narrow grounds:

  • The first ground is legislative competence, that is, if the court finds that the Parliament has no power to legislate on a subject matter.
  • The other two grounds are if the law violates fundamental rights or any other provisions of the Constitution respectively.

Various precedents

  • In matters involving the constitutionality of any legislation, courts should be extremely loath to pass an interim order,” a Supreme Court bench had said in 2013 ruling on the validity of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Regulation Act, 2003.
  • At the time of final adjudication, the court can strike down the statute if found ultra vires of the Constitution.
  • Even in 2019, the Supreme Court refused to stay amendments made in 2018 to the SCs and STs Atrocities Prevention Act saying that a law made by Parliament cannot be stayed.
  • The court also refused to stay the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, which was also challenged after it drew protests across the country.

NJAC and Aadhaar Case

  • Even strongly contested legislation such as the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) and Aadhaar was not stayed by the Supreme Court.
  • They were, instead, stalled by the government for the duration of the protracted legal battles in court.
  • While the NJAC Act, which contemplated a significant role for the executive in judicial appointments, was struck down as being violative of the basic structure, the SC upheld the Aadhaar Act.

What are the issues with the suspension?

  • The court’s action, at first sight, is a violation of separation of powers.
  • It also gives the misleading impression that a distributive conflict can be resolved by technical or judicial means.
  • It is also not a court’s job to mediate a political dispute.
  • Its job is to determine unconstitutionality or illegality.
  • Even in suspending laws there needs to be some prima facie case that these lapses might have taken place.
  • It has set a new precedent for putting on hold laws passed by Parliament without substantive hearings on the content of the laws.
  • Also in appointing the committee, the court has violated the first rule of mediation: The mediators must be acceptable to all parties and appointed in consultation with them.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court order has given the government a setback while not addressing the concerns of the protesting farmers. The court needs to consider these facts and mend its implications.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Supreme Court cleared New Delhi’s Central Vista Project

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Central Vista Project

Mains level : Need for new parliament building

The Hon’ble Supreme Court has allowed the central vista project to go ahead.

Try this MCQ first:

Q.The architecture of the present Parliament House of India is inspired from:

a) Ekattarso Mahadeva Temple

b) Virupaksa Temple

c) Dilwara Temples

d) Brihaddeswara Temple

The Central Vista Project

  • The project aims to renovate and redevelop 86 acres of land in Lutyens’s Delhi.
  • In this, the landmark structures of the government, including Parliament House, Rashtrapati Bhavan, India Gate, North Block and South Block, etc. stand.
  • This dream project of redeveloping the nation’s administrative heart was announced by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs on September 13, 2019.

Litigation over the project

  • A petition was filed in the Supreme Court in April 2020, challenging the Centre’s change-of-land-use notification of March 2020 with regard to the 86 acres of land.
  • The petitioner submitted that the order violated the citizen’s Right to Life guaranteed under Article 21 by depriving people of open and green spaces.
  • The petition also argued that the notification violated the Master Plan of Delhi 2021.
  • Subsequently, the court heard the challenge on three main grounds: change of land use; violations of municipal law; and violations of environmental law.

What has the court held?

  • In a 2:1 majority verdict, the court has held that there are no infirmities in the approvals granted.
  • The verdict held that the central government’s change of land use for the project in the Master Plan of Delhi 2021 is also a lawful exercise of its powers.

History of Lutyens’s Delhi

  • At his coronation as Emperor of India on December 12, 1911, Britain’s King George V had announced the transfer of the seat of the Government of India from Calcutta to the ancient Capital of Delhi.
  • Thereafter, a 20-year-long project to build modern New Delhi was spearheaded by architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker.
  • They built Parliament House, Rashtrapati Bhavan, North and South Blocks, Rajpath, India Gate, National Archives and the princes’ houses around India Gate.
  • New Delhi was unveiled in 1931.

Must read:

New Parliament Building

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Declining seating of the state legislature and issues with it.

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Provisions related to sessions of legislatures

Mains level : Paper 2- Declining number of sittings of state legislature

Recently, Governor turned down the recommendation of the Kerala government to convene the session of the state legislature. It also points to the trend of declining seating of the state legislature and issues with it.

Governor-Government conflict

  • The Kerala government made a recommendation to the governor for summoning the state’s legislature for a one-day session.
  • The government wanted to discuss the situation arising out of the farmers’ protest in the legislative assembly.
  • Media reports suggest that the governor turned down the government on the grounds that there is no emergent situation for which the state assembly should be called to meet at short notice.
  • Earlier this year, the Rajasthan governor had rejected the recommendation of the government to call a session.
  • The chief minister wanted a session of the legislature called so that he could prove his majority on the floor of the house.

Constitutional provisions

  • The Constitution is clear: The government has the power to convene a session of the legislature.
  • The council of ministers decides the dates and the duration of the session.
  • Their decision is communicated to the governor, who is constitutionally bound to act on most matters on the aid and advice of the government.
  • The governor then summons the state legislature to meet for a session.
  • The refusal of a governor to do so is a matter of concern.

Declining sittings of the state legislature

  • In the last 20 years, state assemblies across the country, on average, met for less than 30 days in a year.
  • But states like Kerala, Odisha, Karnataka are an exception.
  • The Kerala Vidhan Sabha, for example, has on average met for 50 days every year for the last 10 years.
  • The trend across the country is that legislatures meet for longer budget sessions at the beginning of the year.
  • Then for the rest of the year, they meet to fulfill the constitutional requirement that there should not be a gap of six months between two sessions.

Why is it a matter of concern

  • Close scrutiny: Continuous and close scrutiny by legislatures is central to improving governance in the country.
  • Voice to public opinion: Legislatures are arenas for debate and giving voice to public opinion.
  • Accountability institutions: As accountability institutions, they are responsible for asking tough questions of the government and highlighting uncomfortable truths. So, it is in the interest of a state government to convene lesser sittings of the legislature and bypass their scrutiny.
  • Prevent ordinance: Lesser number of sitting days also means that state governments are free to make laws through ordinances. And when they convene legislatures, there is little time for MLAs to scrutinize laws brought before them.

Way forward

  • Convening legislatures to meet all around the year.
  • In many mature democracies, a fixed calendar of sittings of legislatures, with breaks in between, is announced at the beginning of the year.
  • It allows the government to plan its calendar for bringing in new laws.
  • It also has the advantage of increasing the time for debate and discussion in the legislative assembly.
  • And with the legislature sitting throughout the year, it gets rid of the politics surrounding the convening of sessions of a legislature.

Conclusion

Continuous and close scrutiny by legislatures is central to improving governance in the country. Increasing the number of working days for state legislatures is a first step in increasing their effectiveness.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Key lesson from farmers’ protest

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Essential Commodities Act

Mains level : Paper 2- Importance of parliamentary procedure in the passage of laws

A key lesson from the farmers’ opposition to the farm laws is that following the parliamentary procedure in the passage of legislation always pays dividend more so if the changes introduced by the legislation bring substantial changes. 

Vested interests resulting in opposition to legislation

  • There are strong indications that the new legislation is desirable and will bring in much-needed market reforms in the overregulated farm sector.
  • There is no contrary evidence that the new proposals will adversely affect farmers in the long run.
  • There is no justification for a minimum support price regardless of demand and supply.
  • Legislation that benefits the nation but hurts vested interests will always meet with vehement opposition.

How liberalisation helps: Lessons from non-agricultural sector

  • The benefits of liberalising the non-agricultural sector of the economy in 1991 established that market forces cannot be ignored.
  • For the first 30 years, under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, several control orders were passed.
  • Orders under ECA were passed on products such as cement and steel, and these were intended to ensure their availability at fair prices.
  • The result was just the opposite: Severe shortages, a huge black market and massive corruption.
  • Equally disastrous were laws relating to monopolies and industrial development.

Importance of parliamentary procedures

  • At the heart of a constitutional democracy based on the Westminster model is the importance of Parliament, which is the fountainhead of all laws.
  • But, Parliament includes the Opposition as well and even though a bill may be certain to become the law, it is necessary that the established procedure is followed.
  • In the face of opposition to the farm laws, it is necessary that the benefits of a new law are demonstrated through debate and discussion.
  • There must be empirical or other evidence that shows the deleterious economic consequences of continuing with the status quo.
  • As the farm bills marked a radical departure from the existing system of selling agricultural produce, the least that could have been done was to refer them to a Select Committee.
  • It is a matter of concern that fewer and fewer bills are being referred to Select Committees or even deliberated upon.
  • While 71 per cent of the bills were referred to a Select Committee in the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-14), only 25 per cent were so referred in the 16th Lok Sabha (2014-19).

Way forward

  • A new law can always come into force at a later date and can even be made applicable piecemeal.
  • It is also possible to notify it to apply to select states or districts.
  • If laws are likely to meet with opposition by vested interests, the best way to demonstrate their beneficial effects is to implement the laws in select states or districts for a year. 
  • It is worthwhile considering the implementation of a controversial law on a trial basis.

Consider the question “Describe the important role played by the Select Committee in the passage of the bill. Why the decline in the number of bills referred to the Select Committees is the matter of concern?” 

Conclusion

The biggest lesson for the goverment is that following constitutional conventions always pays dividends — it benefits the nation and preserves the dignity of Parliament.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

How Parliament meets

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sessions of the Parliament

Mains level : Executive responsibility to the Legislature

The centre has said that there will be no winter session of Parliament this time due to the COVID despite the ‘success’ in curbing the pandemic. This year, the Parliament has met for only 33 days!

Q. The undue delays and inactions by the constitutional functionaries threaten to widen the constitutional faultlines among the Executives. Critically comment.

Sessions of Parliament

  • The power to convene a session of Parliament rests with the government. But it is the President who summons Parliament.
  • The decision is taken by the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs, which currently comprises nine ministers, including those for Defence, Home, Finance, and Law.
  • The decision of the Committee is formalized by the President, in whose name MPs are summoned to meet for a session.
  • A general scheme of sittings was recommended in 1955 by the General Purpose Committee of Lok Sabha.
  • It was accepted by the government of PM Jawaharlal Nehru but was not implemented.

No fixed calendar

  • India does not have a fixed parliamentary calendar.
  • By convention, Parliament meets for three sessions in a year.
  • The longest, the Budget Session, starts towards the end of January and concludes by the end of April or first week of May.
  • The session has a recess so that Parliamentary Committees can discuss the budgetary proposals.
  • The second session is the three-week Monsoon Session, which usually begins in July and finishes in August.
  • The parliamentary year ends with a three-week-long Winter Session, which is held from November to December.

What the Constitution says

  • The summoning of Parliament is specified in Article 85 of the Constitution. Like many other articles, it is based on a provision of The Government of India Act, 1935.
  • This provision specified that the central legislature had to be summoned to meet at least once a year and that not more than 12 months could elapse between two sessions.
  • Dr B R Ambedkar stated that the purpose of this provision was to summon the legislature only to collect revenue and that the once-a-year meeting was designed to avoid scrutiny of the government by the legislature.
  • His drafting of the provision reduced the gap between sessions to six months and specified that Parliament should meet at least twice a year.

Convening a Session: The debate

  • During the debate, members of the Constituent Assembly highlighted three issues: (i) the number of sessions in a year, (ii) the number of days of sitting and, (iii) who should have the power to convene Parliament.
  • Prof K T Shah from Bihar was of the opinion that Parliament should sit throughout the year, with breaks in between.
  • Others wanted Parliament to sit for longer durations and gave examples of the British and American legislatures which during that time were meeting for more than a hundred days in a year.
  • Prof Shah also wanted the presiding officers of the two Houses to be empowered to convene Parliament in certain circumstances. These suggestions were not accepted by Dr Ambedkar.

Moved, delayed, stretched

  • Over the years, governments have shuffled around the dates of sessions to accommodate political and legislative exigencies.
  • Sessions have also been cut short or delayed to allow the government to issue Ordinances.

Fewer House sittings

  • Over the years, there has been a decline in the sittings days of Parliament.
  • During the first two decades of Parliament, Lok Sabha met for an average of a little more than 120 days a year.
  • This has come down to approximately 70 days in the last decade.

Why sittings are reducing day by day?

  • One institutional reason given for this is the reduction in the workload of Parliament by its Standing Committees, which, since the 1990s, have anchored debates outside the House.
  • However, several Committees have recommended that Parliament should meet for at least 120 days in a year.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Delimitation should be based on 2031 Census

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Delimitation Commission

Mains level : Delimitation of constituencies

A paper released by the Pranab Mukherjee Foundation (PMF) has suggested that the next delimitation exercise should be a two-step process:

  1. First a Delimitation Commission should be set up to redraw boundaries of constituencies on the basis of the 2031 Census
  2. And then a State Reorganization Act be passed to split States into smaller ones

Q.With the new Parliament House, the role of the Presiding officers of the Houses is going to be more challenging. Discuss, how.

Back in news

  • PM recently inaugurated a brand new Parliament Annexe building that will afford our lawmakers more space and enable better functioning.
  • In a few years from now, we might actually need a new building for Parliament altogether due to the likely increase in a number of seats in both Houses after the lifting of the freeze imposed by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1976, which is due in 2026.

What is Delimitation? Why is it needed?

  • Delimitation is the act of redrawing boundaries of Lok Sabha and state Assembly seats to represent changes in population.
  • In this process, the number of seats allocated to different states in Lok Sabha and the total number seats in a Legislative Assembly may also change.
  • The main objective of delimitation is to provide equal representation to equal segments of a population.
  • It also aims at a fair division of geographical areas so that one political party doesn’t have an advantage over others in an election.

Why such debate?

  • The 84th Amendment to the Constitution in 2002 had put a freeze on the delimitation of Lok Sabha and State Assembly constituencies till the first Census after 2026.
  • While the current boundaries were drawn on the basis of the 2001 Census, the number of Lok Sabha seats and State Assembly seats remained frozen on the basis of the 1971 Census.
  • The population according to the last census preceding the freeze was 50 crore, which in 50 years has grown to 130 crores.
  • This has caused a massive asymmetry in the political representation in the country.

Why there are fewer delimitations?

  • The Constitution mandates that the number of Lok Sabha seats allotted to a state would be such that the ratio between that number and the population of the state is, as far as practicable, the same for all states.
  • Although unintended, this provision implied that states that took little interest in population control could end up with a greater number of seats in Parliament.
  • The southern states that promoted family planning faced the possibility of having their seats reduced.
  • To allay these fears, the Constitution was amended during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency rule in 1976 to suspend delimitation until 2001.
  • Despite the embargo, there were a few occasions that called for readjustment in the number of Parliament and Assembly seats allocated to a state.

Background

  • According to Article 81 of the Constitution — as it stood before the 42nd CAA 1976 — the Lok Sabha was to comprise of not more than 550 members.
  • Clause (2) of Article 81 provided that there shall be allotted to each State a number of MPs in such manner that the ratio between that number and the population of the State is the same for all States.
  • Further, clause (3) defined the expression “population” for the purposes of Article 81 to mean the population as ascertained at the last preceding census of which the relevant figures have been published.

Dilemma over delimitation

  • States which took a lead in population control faced the prospect of their number of seats getting reduced and States which had higher population figures stood to gain by increase in the number of seats in Lok Sabha.
  • As a result of the freezing of the allocation of seats, the allocation done on the basis of the 1971 Census continues to hold good for the present population figures.
  • According to the 2011 Census, the population of our country stands at 121 crores with a registered electorate of 83.41 crores.
  • Basing the 1971 Census figure of 54.81 crores to represent today’s population presents a distorted version of our democratic polity and is contrary to what is mandated under Article 81 of the Constitution.
  • So when the first Census figure will be available after 2026 — that is, in 2031 — a fresh delimitation will have to do which will dramatically alter the present arrangement of seat allocation to the States in Parliament.

Acquainting more MPs: A big challenge

  • One question that has to be addressed is how the Presiding Officers of the Houses/Legislatures will deal with such a large number of members to capture the attention of the Speaker to raise issues in the House.
  • Even with the current strength of 543 members, the Speaker finds it extremely difficult to conduct the proceedings of the House.
  • Members do not show much heed to the appeals of the Speaker, thereby making smooth conduct of House proceedings a difficult affair.
  • The Speaker’s directions and rulings are not shown proper respect, and disruptions of proceedings aggravate the problem.
  • The sudden increase in numbers will render the task of the Speaker more difficult and onerous.

Conclusion

  • While 2026 is still a few years away. But we need to be clear on how to deal with the problems that are likely to arise, we will be forced to postpone the lifting of the freeze to a future date as was done in 2001.
  • This will only postpone the problem for which we must find a solution sooner or later.
  • Even the various proposals for electoral reforms which have been recommended by various Commissions over the past decade do not address these issues.
  • These are challenges which our political leaders have to address in the immediate future.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Demand for repeal of the law and importance of parliamentary scrutiny

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various parliamentary committees and their functions

Mains level : Paper 2- Importance of scrutiny of the Bills at committee level

The article explains in detail the functioning of committees in the scrutiny of the Bills and underscores the importance of scrutiny of the Bills at the committee levels.

Growing trend of bypassing the scrutiny at committee level

  • Data show that very few Bills are referred to the Parliamentary Committees now.
  • Ministers are generally reluctant to send their Bills to the committees because they are in a hurry to pass them.
  • They often request the Presiding Officers not to refer their Bills to the committees.
  • But the Presiding Officers are required to exercise their independent judgment in the matter and decide the issue.
  • They need to keep in mind the fact that the Bills which the government brings before the Houses often have serious shortcomings.

Why scrutiny by the House committee matters

  • The demand for the repeal of the laws passed by Parliament only recently essentially points to a serious lapse in the management of the legislative work in Parliament.
  • Parliament has put in place a large machinery of committees to scrutinise the Bills which are brought before it by the government as a part of its legislative programme.
  • Rules of the Houses leave it to the Speaker or the Chairman to refer the Bills to the Standing Committees for a detailed scrutiny thereof.
  • After such scrutiny, the committees send their reports containing their recommendations on improvements to be made in the Bills to the Houses.
  • While undertaking such scrutiny, the committees invite various stakeholders to place their views before them.
  • Only after elaborate consultation do the committees formulate their views and recommendations.
  • Free India’s Parliament established a vast network of committees to undertake scrutiny of various aspects of governance including the Bills.
  • Prior to the formation of Standing Committees, the Indian Parliament used to appoint select committees, joint select committees, etc. for detailed scrutiny of important legislative proposals of the government.
  • With the formation of standing committees, the occasions for appointing select or joint select committees are few.

Example of the Bills made better by suggestions of committe

  • The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Bill was introduced in 1999 in the Lok Sabha and was immediately referred to a joint committee of both Houses.
  • This Bill was meant to develop new varieties of plants and protect the rights of farmers and breeders.
  • The committee completed its work in eight months and made many improvements by way of bringing greater clarity into various terms and concepts.
  • The Seeds Bill, 2004 was referred to the Standing Committee on Agriculture which obtained the views from diverse sources.
  • Through the process of consultation with a wide range of experts and research organisations and farmers, the committee made significant improvements in the Bill; as a result, there was a better law on seeds.
  • It was the same case with the Companies (Amendment) Bill, the Information Technology Bill, and the Goods and Services Tax Bill.
  • The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill which was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2011, which was referred to the Committee, was again referred to a Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha when it was transmitted to that House after being passed by the Lok Sabha.
  • Thus, this Bill underwent double security by two committees of Parliament.

Conclusion

Our Parliamentary Committees have a tradition of working in a non-party manner. The reports of these Committees are based on consensus. It may be a bit difficult for people to believe that the instrumentalities of Parliament could rise above parties. But that is how they function.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

New Parliament Building

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Parliament house architecture

Mains level : Need for new parliament building

PM would on December 10 lay the foundation stone for the new Parliament building, which would be a symbol of “Atmanirbhar Bharat” and a “temple of democracy” for Independent India.

Try this MCQ first:

Q.The architecture of the present Parliament House of India is inspired from:

a) Ekattarso Mahadeva Temple

b) Virupaksa Temple

c) Dilwara Temples

d) Brihaddeswara Temple

The new Parliament Building

  • The building, to be constructed by Tata Projects Ltd. would have a built-up area of 64,500 square metres over four floors and would be built adjacent to the existing building over 22 months.
  • Artisans and sculptors from across the country would contribute to the new building, showcasing the diversity and making it a symbol of “Atmanirbhar Bharat”.
  • The building would have modern equipment, be earthquake-safe and accommodate up to 1,224 MPs during joint sessions in the Lok Sabha chamber.
  • The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha chambers themselves would accommodate 888 and 384 MPs respectively.

Issues with the old building

  • The existing British-built Parliament building, built in the 1920s, was designed for the Imperial Legislative Council and not for a bicameral Parliament.
  • The building has been modified over the years, including in 1956 when two floors were added.
  • While the number of Lok Sabha seats has remained 545 based on delimitation carried out on the basis of the 1971 Census, it is likely to increase after 2026 as the number of seats has been frozen till then.
  • The sources said the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha halls are packed and would not be able to accommodate additional seats when the number of seats goes up.

Back2Basics: Parliament House (Sansad Bhavan)

  • The Sansad Bhavan is the seat of the Parliament of India. It houses the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha which represent lower and upper houses respectively in India’s bicameral parliament.
  • The existing building draws inspiration from Ekattarso Mahadeva Temple (in M.P.) and was built under the British empire for its Imperial Legislative Council in 1927.
  • The opening ceremony, which then housed the Imperial Legislative Council, was performed on 18 January 1927 by Lord Irwin, Viceroy of India.
  • Following the end of British rule in India, it was taken over by Constituent Assembly of India which was succeeded by the parliament of India once Constitution of India came into force in 1950.
  • In the 2010s, a proposal was introduced to revamp Central Vista and re-build or relocate a number of administrative buildings which initiated a program expecting completion in 2024.

Architectural details:

  • Originally called the House of Parliament, it was designed by the British architects’ Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker in 1912-1913.
  • It was held as part of their wider mandate to construct a new administrative capital city for British India.
  • The perimeter of the building is circular, with 144 columns on the outside.
  • The building is surrounded by large gardens and the perimeter is fenced off by sandstone railings (jali).
  • Construction of the House began in 1921 and it was completed in 1927.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

What is the ‘Office of Profit’?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Office of Profit

Mains level : Office of Profit and associated issue

The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Office of Profit has deliberated on whether a Parliamentarian can continue to teach at University and if this draws the provisions of “Office of Profit” rules.

Note: The Constitution of India does not define the Office of Profit. It has only mentioned it under Article 102 (1) and Article 191 (1).

The concept of ‘Office of Profit’

  • MPs and MLAs, as members of the legislature, hold the government accountable for its work.
  • The essence of disqualification is if legislators hold an ‘office of profit’ under the government, they might be susceptible to government influence, and may not discharge their constitutional mandate fairly.
  • The intent is that there should be no conflict between the duties and interests of an elected member.
  • Hence, the office of profit law simply seeks to enforce a basic feature of the Constitution- the principle of separation of power between the legislature and the executive.

What governs the term?

  • At present, the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1959, bars an MP, MLA or an MLC from holding any office of profit under the central or state government unless it is exempted.
  • However, it does not clearly define what constitutes an office of profit.
  • Legislators can face disqualification for holding such positions, which bring them financial or other benefits.
  • Under the provisions of Article 102 (1) and Article 191 (1) of the Constitution, an MP or an MLA (or an MLC) is barred from holding any office of profit under the Central or State government.

An Un-defined term

  • The officials of the law ministry are of the view that defining an office of profit could lead to the filing of a number of cases with the Election Commission and the courts.
  • Also, once the definition is changed, one will also have to amend various provisions in the Constitution including Article 102 (1) (a) and Article 109 (1) (a) that deal with the office of profit.
  • It will have an overarching effect on all the other sections of the Constitution.

Factors constituting an ‘office of profit’

  • The 1959 law does not clearly define what constitutes an office of profit but the definition has evolved over the years with interpretations made in various court judgments.
  • An office of profit has been interpreted to be a position that brings to the office-holder some financial gain, or advantage, or benefit. The amount of such profit is immaterial.
  • In 1964, the Supreme Court ruled that the test for determining whether a person holds an office of profit is the test of appointment.

Several factors are considered in this determination including factors such as:

  1. whether the government is the appointing authority,
  2. whether the government has the power to terminate the appointment,
  3. whether the government determines the remuneration,
  4. what is the source of remuneration, and
  5. the power that comes with the position.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Governor’s inaction and judicial scrutiny

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Article 72 and Article 161

Mains level : Paper 2- Judicial scrutiny of decisions by functionaries

The inaction by the Governor of Tamil Nadu on advice to free the convict has raised the possibility of judicial intervention due to undue delay.

Inaction by Governor on advice

  • The Governor of Tamil Nadu has continued to withhold his decision on an application seeking pardon by one of the seven prisoners convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
  • In September 2018, the Supreme Court (SC) had observed, while hearing a connected writ petition, that the Governor should take a decision
  • The inaction by the Governor now has given rise to constitutional fault lines within the Executive arm of the government.

Past judgements on pardoning power

  • In Maru Ram v. Union of India (1981)  Supreme Court held that the pardoning power “under Articles 72 and 161 of the Constitution can be exercised by the Central and the State Governments, not by the President or Governor on their own.
  • The majority judgment had said that the “advice of the appropriate Government binds the Head of the State”.
  • Therefore, a Governor is neither expected, nor is empowered, to test the constitutionality of the order or resolution presented to her.

Issue of delay in decision of mercy petition

  • Recently, the Supreme Court, had examined the inordinate delay by the President and the Governor — in taking decisions on mercy petitions.
  • The Supreme Court, in the case of Shatrugan Chouhan v. Union of India, laid down the principle of “presumption of dehumanising effect of such delay”.
  • The Supreme Court confirmed that the due process guaranteed under Article 21 was available to each and every prisoner “till his last breath”.

Judicial scrutiny of the actions of Speakers

  • It was hitherto believed that the powers of the Speaker, holding a constitutional office and exercising powers granted under the Constitution, were beyond the scope of a ‘writ of mandamus’.
  • In the recent case of Keisham Meghachandra Singh v. Hon’ble Speaker (2020), the Supreme Court was asked to examine the Speaker’s inaction with regard to disqualification proceedings.
  • However, the apex court, referering to Rajendra Singh Rana v. Swami Prasad Maurya (2007), had confirmed its view that the “failure on the part of the Speaker to decide the application seeking a disqualification cannot be said to be merely in the realm of procedure”
  • Consequently, breaking years of convention, the SC set the time period of four weeks to decide the disqualification petition.
  • By doing so, the Supreme Court has indicated that it would not be precluded from issuing directions in aid of a constitutional authority “arriving at a prompt decision”.

Consider the question “The undue delays and inactions by the constitutional functionaries threaten to widen the constitutional faultlines among the Executives. Comment.”

Conclusion

Instead of relying on the judicial intervention in the event of delays, it would be better to have a set time limit for arriving at decision by the constitutional judiciary.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Legal challenges the Farm Acts could face

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : List 2 and List 3 of the Constitution

Mains level : Paper 2- Legal challenges Agri Acts 2020 could face

Farm Acts passed by the Parliament could face the legal hurdle in the court when challenged on its constitutional basis. This article explains the issue.

Background

  • Recently, Parliament passed three acts related to agriculture. These Acts are-
  • 1) The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020.
  • 2) The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020.
  • 3) The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
  • This has led to the question: Does the Union government have the authority to legislate on what are rightfully the affairs of States?

Why agriculture is considered as States’ prerogative

  • Agriculture is a State subject in the Constitution, listed as Entry 14 in the State List (List II).
  • Entry 26 in the State List refers to “trade and commerce within the State”.
  • Entry 27 in the State List refers to “production, supply and distribution of goods”.
  • Entry 28 refers to “markets and fairs”.
  • For these reasons, intra-State marketing in agriculture was always considered a legislative prerogative of States.

What was the legal basis used by the Parliament to pass the Farm Acts

  • The central government invoked Entry 33 in the Concurrent List (List III).
  • Entry 26 and 27 in List II are listed as “subject to the provisions of Entry 33 of List III”.

Entry 33 in List III: Trade and commerce in, and the production, supply and distribution of, — (a) the products of any industry where the control of such industry by the Union is declared by Parliament by law to be expedient in the public interest, and imported goods of the same kind as such products; (b) foodstuffs, including edible oilseeds and oils; (c) cattle fodder, including oilcakes and other concentrates; (d) raw cotton, whether ginned or unginned, and cotton seed; and (e) raw jute.

Historical background of  “Entry 33” of Concurrent List

  • Entry 33, in its present form, was inserted in List III through the Constitution (Third Amendment) Act, 1954 after heated constitutional debates.
  • The contention of the dissent was the following:
  • As per Article 369 in the original version of the Constitution, the responsibility of agricultural trade and commerce within a State was temporarily entrusted to the Union government for a period of five years beginning from 1950.
  • The 1954 Amendment attempted to change this into a permanent feature in the Constitution.
  • According to dissident “if matters enumerated in Article 369 in were placed in List III, State autonomy would be rendered illusory and State powers and rights would be progressively pulverised…”.
  • While another dissident argued that “passage of the Bill would transform the Indian Constitution into a “unitary Constitution” instead of a “federal Constitution” and reduce “all the States’ powers into municipal powers”.
  • Notwithstanding the strong dissenting voices, the Bill was passed.

Let’s look into the related Supreme Court Judgments

  • In many of its judgments after 1954, the Supreme Court of India has upheld the legislative powers of States in intra-State agricultural marketing.
  • Most notable was the ruling of the five-judge Constitution Bench in I.T.C. Limited vs. Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) and Others, 2002.
  • The Tobacco Board Act, 1975 had brought the development of the tobacco industry under the Centre.
  • However, Bihar’s APMC Act continued to list tobacco as an agricultural produce.
  • In this case, the question was if the APMC in Monghyr could charge a levy on ITC for the purchase of unprocessed tobacco leaves from growers.
  • An earlier judgment had held that the State APMC Act will be repugnant to the Central Act, and hence was ultra vires.
  • But the Constitution Bench upheld the validity of the State APMC Act, and ruled that market fees can be charged from ITC under the State APMC Act.

Consider the question “Examine the validity of legal basis used by the Parliament to pass the Farm Acts. Why it could face the legal challenge?”

Conclusion

It was unwise on the part of the Centre to use Entry 33 in List III to push the Farm Bills. Such adventurism weakens the spirit of federal cooperation that India needs in this hour of crisis. Second, agriculture is exclusively a State subject.


Back2Basics: Read more about 3 Agricultural Acts passed by the Parliament here-

[Burning Issue] Agricultural Reform Bills, 2020

 

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Moving away from parliamentary scrutiny

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various committees and their roles.

Mains level : Paper 2- Role of parliamentary committees

The article discusses the important role played by the various committees and their significance.

Committee system for legislative scrutiny

  • Over the years, the Indian Parliament has increasingly adopted the committee system as did the other democracies in the world.
  • This helped in housekeeping, to enhance the efficacy of the House to cope with the technical issues confronting it and to feel the public pulse.
  • But the committee approach also helped to guard its turf and keep it abreast to exercise accountability on the government.

Important role played by the committees

  • Committees are the guardians of the autonomy of the House: consider the role of committees of scrutiny and oversight.
  • In the discharge of their mandate, the committee can solicit expert advice and elicit public opinion.
  • Besides the standing committees, the Houses of Parliament set up, from time to time, ad hoc committees to enquire and report on specific subjects which include Select Committees of a House or Joint Select Committees of both the Houses.
  • Departmentally-related Standing Committees (DRSCs)  were envisaged to be the face of Parliament in a set of inter-related departments and ministries.

Issues

  • Committees of scrutiny and advice, both standing and ad hoc, have been confined to the margins or left in the lurch in the last few years.
  • While 60% of the Bills in the 14th Lok Sabha and 71% in the 15th Lok Sabha were wetted by the DRSCs concerned, this proportion came down to 27% in the 16th Lok Sabha.
  • The government has shown extreme reluctance to refer Bills to Select Committees of the Houses or Joint Parliamentary Committees.

Conclusion

The government must not forget that the primary role of Parliament is deliberation, discussion and reconsideration, the hallmarks of democratic institutions, and not a platform that endorses decisions already arrived at.


Back2Bascis: Parliamentary Committees

Broadly, they are classified into two categories — standing committees and ad hoc committees.

1) Standing Committees

  • As the name suggests, these committees cover all the ministries and departments of the Government of India.
  • Standing committees are more permanent in nature, and are constituted from time to time in pursuance of the provisions of an Act of Parliament or Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha.
  • The standing committees are further divided into financial committees and departmentally-related standing committees (DRSCs).
  • There are 24 DRSCs in total — 16 from Lok Sabha and 8 from the Rajya Sabha.
  • Financial committees are of three kinds — the estimates committee, the public accounts committee and the committee on public undertakings.

2) Ad hoc committees

  • Ad hoc committees are appointed for a specific purpose and they cease to exist after they finish the task assigned to them and submit a report.
  • These include advisory committees and inquiry committees.
  • Advisory committees include select and joint committees on bills.
  • Inquiry committees are constituted to inquire into a specific issue and report on it.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Parliament is not just about technicalities, deference to process builds trust

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Parliamentary procedures

The article deals with the issue of importance of parliamentary procedures and how it has been neglected in the passage of several Bills recently.

2 contexts that explain the crisis Parliament faces

1) Neglecting the procedure

  • Three simple procedural matters are the cornerstone of parliamentary practice.
  • The first is Question Hour, which was suspended.
  • Even in taking that decision, the Speaker did not accede to the demand for a division.
  • The second is referring bills to committees.
  • It is increasingly the case with important pieces of legislation that they are not being either referred to committees, nor are they being fully debated in Parliament.
  • The third and most important is “division.”
  • If a member of a House asks for a division of votes, the Speaker needs to grant it.
  • The Speaker can refuse under some circumstances, but even then he has to take something like an informal headcount vote before refusing division.

2) Substantive context

  • There are three bills relating to agriculture that have occasioned serious protests.
  • There are three far-reaching pieces of legislation pertaining to labour reform.
  • Each of these bills can be improved and crafted in ways that make them more the object of consensus.
  • The bills pertaining to agriculture were debated, ffter the debate,  deputy chairperson refusesed a division.
  • By allowing a division we would at least record where each member of Parliament stood on a question of monumental importance.

Concerns

  • We seem to not want to give flexibility to states when it comes to farmers.
  • Flexibility is given to states, in the most unrestrained manner possible, when it comes to the interest of capital against labour.
  • It seems that the hurried interests of corporate India take precedence over farmers and labour, rather than a well negotiated social contract between all three.

Why the farmers are concerned

  • A lot of the farmers’ legitimate fear is that in a fiscal crunch, MSP will be rolled back or procurement curtailed.
  • There is genuine uncertainty over what private procurement will mean.

Way forward

  • It is also possible that in the case of the APMC, a more creative solution could have been found for concerns of the states, like an opt-out clause for them.
  • In case of amendments to labour laws, there is need to examine whether it fulfils the twin objectives of both protecting workers and being compliance-friendly at the same time.

Conclusion

Some deference to process can build trust because it is a sign of a government that listens. At least on the APMC this was a possibility. Let us hope on labour bills there is more reasoned deliberation. Parliamentary practice will not be able to knit an enduring social contract between labour, capital and farmers if it does not inspire confidence.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Explained: Suspension of Members of Parliament

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Suspension of MPs

Mains level : Parliamentary behavior and decency

Recently eight Rajya Sabha MPs were suspended for unruly behaviour in the House.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Consider the following statements:

  1. Speaker of the legislative assembly shall vacate his/her office of he/she ceases to be a member of the assembly
  2. Whenever the legislative assembly is dissolved the speaker shall vacate his/her office immediately

Which of the statements given above is/are correct? (CSP 2018)

a) 1 only

b) 2 only

c) Both 1 and 2

d) Neither 1 not 2

What is the reason for suspending an MP?

  • The general principle is that it is the role and duty of the Presiding Officer — Speaker of Lok Sabha and Chairman of Rajya Sabha — to maintain order so that the House can function smoothly.
  • In order to ensure that proceedings are conducted in the proper manner, the Speaker/Chairman is empowered to force a Member to withdraw from the House.

What are the rules under which the Presiding Officer acts?

  • Rule Number 373 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business provides for the suspension of MPs by the Speaker of the House.
  • To deal with more recalcitrant Members, the Speaker make take recourse to Rules 374 and 374A.
  • Rule 374 says: The Speaker may, if deems it necessary, name a Member who disregards the authority of the Chair or abuses the rules of the House by persistently and wilfully obstructing the business thereof.
  • Rule 374A was incorporated in the Rule Book on December 5, 2001. The intention was to skirt around the necessity of moving and adopting a motion for suspension.

Procedure in Rajya Sabha

It’s largely similar, with one important difference.

  • Like the Speaker in Lok Sabha, the Chairman of Rajya Sabha is empowered under Rule Number 255 of its Rule Book to “direct any Member whose conduct is in his opinion grossly disorderly to withdraw immediately” from the House.
  • Unlike the Speaker, however, the Rajya Sabha Chairman does not have the power to suspend a Member. The House may, by another motion, terminate the suspension.
  • The Chairman may “name a Member who disregards the authority of the Chair or abuses the rules of the Council by persistently and wilfully obstructing” business.
  • In such a situation, the House may adopt a motion suspending the Member from the service of the House for a period not exceeding the remainder of the session.

Is suspending an MP a decent practice?

  • It is a strong action, but it is not uncommon. In general, a balance has to be struck.
  • There can be no question that the enforcement of the supreme authority of the Presiding Officer is essential for smooth conduct of proceedings.
  • However, it must be remembered that the job of the Presiding Officer is to run the House, not to lord over it.

Alternatives to suspension

  • The solution to unruly behaviour has to be long-term and consistent with democratic values.
  • A previous Speaker had ordered that television cameras be focussed on the demonstrating members so that people could see for themselves how their representatives were behaving in the House.

Present situation

  • In the present case, however, the Opposition has accused the Chairman of stopping the telecast of the proceedings in Rajya Sabha.
  • What cannot be denied is that Speaker’s/Chairman’s actions are often dictated more by expediency and the stand of the party that they belong to, rather than by the Rules and principles.
  • So, the ruling party of the day invariably insists on the maintenance of discipline, just as the Opposition insists on its right to protest. And their positions change when their roles flip.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Roles, functions and limitations of Parliamentary Committees

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Parliamentary committees and its types

Mains level : Parliamentary committees and thier various functions

The government pushed through two crucial agriculture Bills in Rajya Sabha, rejecting Opposition demands to refer them to a Select Committee of Rajya Sabha.

Try this PYQ:

With reference to the Parliament of India which of the following Parliamentary Committees scrutinizes and reports to the House whether the powers to make regulations, rules, sub-rules, bylaws, etc. conferred by the Constitution or delegated by the Parliament are being properly exercised by the Executive within the scope of such delegation?(CSP 2018)

(a) Committee on Government Assurances

(b) Committee on Subordinate Legislation

(c) Rules Committee

(d) Business Advisory Committee

What is a Parliamentary Committee?

  • It means a Committee which is appointed or elected by the House or nominated by the Speaker and which works under the direction of the Speaker and presents its report to the House or to the Speaker and the Secretariat for which is provided by the Lok Sabha Secretariat.

By their nature, Parliamentary Committees are of two kinds: Standing Committees and Ad hoc Committees.

  1. Standing Committees are permanent and regular committees which are constituted from time to time in pursuance of the provisions of an Act of Parliament or Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha. The work of these Committees is of continuous nature. The Financial Committees, DRSCs and some other Committees come under the category of Standing Committees.
  2. Ad hoc Committees are appointed for a specific purpose and they cease to exist when they finish the task assigned to them and submit a report. The principal Ad hoc Committees are the Select and Joint Committees on Bills. Railway Convention Committee, Joint Committee on Food Management in Parliament House Complex etc also come under the category of ad hoc Committees.

Why need Parliamentary Committee?

  • Parliament scrutinizes legislative proposals (Bills) in two ways. The first is by discussing it on the floor of the two Houses.
  • This is a legislative requirement; all Bills have to be taken up for debate.
  • The time spent debating the bills can vary. They can be passed in a matter of minutes, or debate and voting on them can run late into the night.
  • Since Parliament meets for 70 to 80 days in a year, there is not enough time to discuss every Bill in detail on the floor of the House.

Its role in the passage of a Bill

  • The debate in the house is mostly political and does not go into the technical details of a legislative proposal.
  • The second mechanism is by referring a Bill to a parliamentary committee. It takes care of the legislative infirmity of debate on the floor of the House.
  • However, referring to Bills to parliamentary committees is not mandatory.

And what is a Select Committee?

  • India’s Parliament has multiple types of committees.
  • They can be differentiated on the basis of their work, their membership and the length of their tenure. First are committees that examine bills, budgets and policies of ministries.
  • These are called departmentally related Standing Committees. There are 24 such committees and between them, they focus on the working of different ministries.
  • Each committee has 31 MPs, 21 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha.
  • The main purpose is to ensure the accountability of Government to Parliament through a more detailed consideration of measures in these committees.
  • The purpose is not to weaken or criticize the administration but to strengthen by investing in with more meaningful parliamentary support.

When does a committee examine a Bill?

  • Bills are not automatically sent to committees for examination. There are three broad paths by which a Bill can reach a committee.
  • The first is when the minister piloting the Bill recommends to the House that his Bill be examined by a Select Committee of the House or a joint committee of both Houses.
  • Last year Electronics and IT Minister moved a motion in Lok Sabha referring the Personal Data Protection Bill to a Joint Committee.
  • If the minister makes no such motion, it is up to the presiding officer of the House to decide whether to send a Bill to a departmentally related Standing Committee.

What happens when a bill goes to a Committee?

  • Sending a Bill to any committee results in two things.
  • First, the committee undertakes a detailed examination of the Bill. It invites comments and suggestions from experts, stakeholders and citizens.
  • The government also appears before the committee to present its viewpoint.
  • All this results in a report that makes suggestions for strengthening the Bill. While the committee is deliberating on a Bill, there is a pause in its legislative journey.
  • It can only progress in Parliament after the committee has submitted its report. Usually, parliamentary committees are supposed to submit their reports in three months, but sometimes it can take longer.

What happens after the report?

  • The report of the committee is of a recommendatory nature. The government can choose to accept or reject its recommendations.
  • Very often the government incorporates suggestions made by committees. Select Committees and JPCs have an added advantage.
  • In their report, they can also include their version of the Bill. If they do so, the minister in charge of that particular Bill can move for the committee’s version of the Bill to be discussed and passed in the House.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

What are Supplementary Grants?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Article 115, 116

Mains level : Supplementary Grants

Finance Minister has tabled the first batch of Supplementary Demands for Grants for this financial year in the Lok Sabha.

Supplementary Demand for Grants

  • Article 115 of the constitution provides for Supplementary, additional or excess grants. (Note: Article 116 provides for Votes on account, votes of credit and exceptional grants.)
  • They are additional grants which are required to meet the expenditure of the government
  • Their demand is presented when the authorized amounts are insufficient and need for additional expenditure has arisen.

Why need supplementary grants?

  • When actual expenditure incurred exceeds the approved grants of the Parliament, the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Railways presents a Demand for Excess Grant.
  • It is needed for government expenditure over and above the amount for which Parliamentary approval was already obtained during the Budget session.
  • When grants, authorised by the Parliament, fall short of the required expenditure, an estimate is presented before the Parliament for Supplementary or Additional grants.
  • These grants are presented and passed by the Parliament before the end of the financial year.

Who notices such grants?

  • The Comptroller and Auditor General of India bring such excesses to the notice of the Parliament.
  • The Public Accounts Committee examines these excesses and gives recommendations to the Parliament.

What are other grants?

  • Excess Grant: It is the grant in excess of the approved grants for meeting the requisite expenses of the government.
  • Additional Grant: It is granted when a need has arisen during the current financial year for supplementary or additional expenditure upon some new service not contemplated in the Budget for that year.
  • Token Grant: When funds to meet proposed expenditure on a new service can be made available by re-appropriation, demand for the grant of a token sum may be submitted to the vote of the House and, if the House assents to the demand, funds may be so made available.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Departmental Standing committees

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Parliamentary committees.

Mains level : Paper 2- Department related committees

The article analyses the issue of tenure of the members of the Department related committees and suggest the changes to the rules about the tenure.

Context

  • There was speculation in the media that the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, M. Venkaiah Naidu, is keen on amending the rules to give them a fixed tenure of two years.

Why 2-year tenure?

  • According to the Rajya Sabha Rules, the term of office of the “members” of the committees shall not exceed one year.
  • Thus, it is the term of office of the members and not that of the committees per se that is one year.
  • The tenurial issue has to be looked at against the backdrop of the fact that the Rajya Sabha itself undergoes partial biennial renewal.
  • While Lok Sabha has a fixed tenure of five years, unless sooner dissolved.
  • Given these facts,2-year tenure suggestion is in consonance with the biennial partial reconstitution of the Rajya Sabha.

Need to rethink the tenurial prescription

  • In case of Lok Sabha, the major reconstitution takes place when a new Lok Sabha is elected, that is normally after five years.
  • Since Rajya Sabha elects new member every two years and the Lok Sabha after every five years, it is only once in 10 years that the requirement of major reshuffle of the Standing Committees in both the Houses is expected to coincide.
  • Given the different election schedules of the two Houses, there is perhaps no need to mandate the same term for the members of both the Houses.

Way forward

  • There are 24 Department-related Standing Committees, each with a membership of 31 (10 of the Rajya Sabha and 21 of the Lok Sabha).
  • They can accommodate 240 members of the Rajya Sabha and 504 members of the Lok Sabha.
  • Therefore, once a member is nominated to a committee, he should be allowed to continue till he retires or otherwise discontinues the membership in order that the committee is able to benefit from his experience and expertise.
  • The Standing Committees are permanent. Hence, there should be no difficulty if the terms of the members of the two Houses on these committees are different, in consonance with the tenure of the Houses themselves.
  • Given these facts, it would stand to reason if the tenure of Department-related Standing Committees is prescribed differently for the two Houses.
  • The Rules could also provide that casual vacancies may be filled in by the Presiding Officers.

Conclusion

While making changes to the rules the Chairman and the Speaker should consider the different tenure for the members of the two Houses on the Department-related committees.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

MPLAD Scheme

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MPLADS

Mains level : MPLADS and its implementation

While extending support to the move for salary-cut, most Members of Parliament have demanded that the MPLADS funds, meant for development work in constituencies, be restored immediately.

Try this PYQ:

Q.With reference to the Parliament of India, consider the following statements:

  1. A private member’s bill is a bill presented by a Member of Parliament who is not elected but only nominated by the President of India.
  2. Recently, a private member’s bill has been passed in the Parliament of India for the first time in its history.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

What is the MPLAD scheme?

  • The Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) is a programme first launched during the Narasimha Rao Government in 1993.
  • It was aimed towards providing funds for developmental works recommended by individual MPs.

Funds available

  • The MPs then were entitled to recommend works to the tune of Rs 1 crore annually between 1994-95 and 1997-98, after which the annual entitlement was enhanced to Rs 2 crore.
  • The UPA government in 2011-12 raised the annual entitlement to Rs 5 crore per MP.

Implementation

  • To implement their plans in an area, MPs have to recommend them to the District Authority of the respective Nodal District.
  • The District Authorities then identify Implementing Agencies which execute the projects.
  • The respective District Authority is supposed to oversee the implementation and has to submit monthly reports, audit reports, and work completion reports to the Nodal District Authority.
  • The MPLADS funds can be merged with other schemes such as MGNREGA and Khelo India.

Guidelines for MPLADS implementation

  • The document ‘Guidelines on MPLADS’ was published by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation in June 2016 in this regard.
  • It stated the objective of the scheme to enable MPs to recommend works of developmental nature with emphasis on the creation of durable community assets based on the locally felt needs in their Constituencies.
  • Right from the inception of the Scheme, durable assets of national priorities viz. drinking water, primary education, public health, sanitation and roads, etc. should be created.
  • It recommended MPs to works costing at least 15 per cent of their entitlement for the year for areas inhabited by Scheduled Caste population and 7.5 per cent for areas inhabited by ST population.
  • It lays down a number of development works including construction of railway halt stations, providing financial assistance to recognised bodies, cooperative societies, installing CCTV cameras etc.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Why the Question Hour matters?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Question hour, Zero Hour

Mains level : Not Much

The decision to go without “Question Hour” during the Monsoon Session of Parliament has evoked serious concerns about the democratic functioning of the institution.

This newscard is very narrative in its form and scope. Try this question as well-

Q.Discuss the various instruments of Parliamentary Control in India.

What is Question Hour?

  • Question Hour is the liveliest hour in Parliament. It is during this one hour that MPs ask questions of ministers and hold them accountable for the functioning of their ministries.
  • Prior to Independence, the first question asked of government was in 1893. It was on the burden cast on village shopkeepers who had to provide supplies to touring government officers.
  • The questions that MPs ask are designed to elicit information and trigger suitable action by ministries.
  • Over the last 70 years, MPs have successfully used this parliamentary device to shine a light on government functioning.
  • Their questions have exposed financial irregularities and brought data and information regarding government functioning to the public domain.
  • With the broadcasting since 1991, Question Hour has become one of the most visible aspects of parliamentary functioning.

Its evolution

  • The right to question the executive has been exercised by members of the House from the colonial period.
  • The first Legislative Council in British India under the Charter Act, 1853, showed some degree of independence by giving members the power to ask questions to the executive.
  • Later, the Indian Council Act of 1861 allowed members to elicit information by means of questions.
  • However, it was the Indian Council Act, 1892, which formulated the rules for asking questions including short notice questions.
  • The next stage of the development of procedures related to questions came up with the framing of rules under the Indian Council Act, 1909, which incorporated provisions for asking supplementary questions by members.
  • The Montague-Chelmsford reforms brought forth a significant change in 1919 by incorporating a rule that the first hour of every meeting was earmarked for questions. Parliament has continued this tradition.
  • In 1921, there was another change. The question, on which a member desired to have an oral answer, was distinguished by him with an asterisk, a star. This marked the beginning of starred questions.

Its significance

  • Question Hour is not only an opportunity for the members to raise questions, but it is a parliamentary device primarily meant for exercising legislative control over executive actions.
  • The government’s actions erode the constitutional mandate of parliamentary oversight over executive actions as envisaged under Article 75 (3) of the Indian Constitution.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Parliamentary oversight and cancellation of question hour

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Question hour and zero hour comparison

Mains level : Paper 2- Question hour and its significance

The article highlights the significance of question hour in democracy.

Context

  • The decision to go without “Question Hour” during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, beginning September 14, has evoked serious concerns about the democratic functioning of the institution.

Significance of question hour

  • Question Hour is an opportunity for the members to raise questions,
  • It is also a parliamentary device primarily meant for exercising legislative control over executive actions.
  • It is also a device to criticise government policies and programmes, ventilate public grievances, expose the government’s lapses, extract promises from ministers.
  • In short, question hour helps to ensure accountability and transparency in governance.

Right to question the executive: Historical background

  • The right to question the executive has been exercised by members of the House from the colonial period.
  • The first Legislative Council in British India under the Charter Act, 1853, allowed members the power to ask questions to the executive.
  • The Indian Council Act of 1861 allowed members to elicit information by means of questions.
  • However, it was the Indian Council Act, 1892, which formulated the rules for asking questions including short notice questions.
  • The Indian Council Act, 1909, which incorporated provisions for asking supplementary questions by members.
  • The Montague-Chelmsford reforms brought forth a significant change in 1919 by incorporating a rule that the first hour of every meeting was earmarked for questions.
  • Parliament has continued this tradition.
  • Since 1921, the question on which a member desired to have an oral answer, was distinguished by him with an asterisk, a star.

Recent instances in which right to ask questions was curtailed

  • The government passed important bills in the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha before the formation of department-related standing committees.
  • The Constitution Amendment Bill on J&K was introduced without circulating copies to the members.
  • Several important bills were passed as Finance Bills to avoid scrutiny of the Rajya Sabha.
  • Standing committees are an extension of Parliament.
  • Any person has the right to present his/her opinion to a Bill during the process of consideration.

Consider the question “What is the significance of question hour in the context of democracy in India? What is the implication of its suspension due to pandemic?”

Conclusion

The government’s actions erode the constitutional mandate of parliamentary oversight over executive actions as envisaged under Article 75 (3) of the Indian Constitution.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

What constitutes a breach of the legislature’s privilege?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Breach of Priviliges in Legislation

Mains level : Not Much

A motion for breach of privilege was moved in the Maharashtra Assembly against a news channel’s editor-in-chief. A similar motion was moved in the Maharashtra Legislative Council against an actor.

Try this PYQ:

Q.With reference to the Parliament of India, which of the following Parliamentary Committees scrutinizes and reports to the House whether the powers to make regulations, rules, sub-rules, by-laws etc. conferred by the constitution of delegated by the Parliament are being properly exercised by the Executive within the scope of such delegation?

(a) Committee on Government Assurances

(b) Committee on Subordinate Legislation

(c) Rules Committee

(d) Business Advisory Committee

Provisions to protect the privileges of the legislature

  • The powers, privileges and immunities of either House of the Indian Parliament and of its Members and committees are laid down in Article 105 of the Constitution.
  • Article 194 deals with the powers, privileges and immunities of the State Legislatures, their Members and their committees.
  • Parliamentary privilege refers to the right and immunity enjoyed by legislatures, in which legislators are granted protection against civil or criminal liability for actions done or statements made in the course of their legislative duties.

What constitutes a breach of this privilege?

  • While the Constitution has accorded special privileges and powers to parliamentarians and legislators to maintain the dignity and authority of the Houses, these powers and privileges are not codified.
  • Thus, there are no clear, notified rules to decide what constitutes a breach of privilege, and the punishment it attracts.
  • Any act that obstructs or impedes either House of the state legislature in performing its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any Member or Officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results is treated as a breach of privilege.
  • It is a breach of privilege and contempt to print or publish libel reflecting on the character or proceedings of the House or its Committees or on any member of the House for or relating to his character or conduct as a legislator.

Procedure followed in cases of an alleged breach

  • The Legislative Assembly Speaker or Legislative Council Chairman constitutes a Privileges Committee consisting of 15 members in the Assembly and 11 members in the Council.
  • The members to the committee which has quasi-judicial powers are nominated based on the party strength in the Houses.
  • The Speaker or Chairman first decides on the motions.
  • If the privilege and contempt are found prima facie, then the Speaker or Chairman will forward it to the Privileges Committee by following the due procedure.
  • At present, there is no Privileges Committee in either House of the state legislature.
  • The Committee will seek an explanation from all the concerned, will conduct an inquiry and will make a recommendation based on the findings to the state legislature for its consideration.

What is the punishment for this?

  • If the Committee finds the offender guilty of breach of privilege and contempt, it can recommend the punishment.
  • The punishment can include communicating the displeasure of the state legislature to the offender, summoning the offender before the House and giving a warning, and even sending the offender to jail.
  • In the case of the media, press facilities of the state legislature may be withdrawn, and a public apology may be sought.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Scrutinising government’s work in limited monsoon session

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Role and accountability of legislature

Mains level : Paper 2- Role of key organs of democracy during pandemic

The article analyses the impact of pandemic on the functioning legislatures and issues its implications.

Context

  • Due to coronavirus pandemic, several States have held very short sessions in which they ratified a number of ordinances and hardly questioned any executive action over the last few months.

Role of Parliament and Court

  • The government has the mandate to take decisions and perform various public tasks.
  • Government in turn is accountable to the legislature which can question it, and, as an extreme step, even replace it.
  • The legislature is accountable to citizens through regular elections.
  • Finally, constitutional courts are expected to ensure that all actions are made within the boundaries of the Constitution and laws made by the legislature.

Dilution of the role of Parliament in  India

  • Indian Parliament has allowed its role to be diluted over the last few decades.
  • It has not questioned and monitored the activity of the executive.
  • Comparison with British Parliament: The United Kingdom’s joint parliamentary committee on human rights examined the proposals of a contact tracing app.
  • The committee recommended that an app could be used only if there was specific primary legislation to enable it. 
  •  India, in contrast, rolled out Aarogya Setu through executive decision, and has created a grey zone on whether it is mandatory or not.
  • Parliament should recover lost ground by fulfilling its constitutionally mandated role.

Lack of parliamentary oversight during pandemic

  • Parliament will be meeting after 175 days.
  • 175 days’ is the longest gap without intervening general elections and just short of the six-month constitutional limit.
  • During the pandemic, over 900 central and nearly 6,000 State government notifications have been issued
  • Parliamentary committees did not meet for about four months.
  • This is unlike many other countries where both the plenary and committees have adopted technology to enable members to participate from home.

Judicial intervention in policy issues

  • The lack of parliamentary oversight has been compounded by judicial intervention in many policy issues.
  •  For example, the government’s actions related to the lockdown should have been questioned by Parliament.
  • However, this was taken to the Supreme Court, which is not equipped and mandated to balance policy options.
  • Directions of the Court have to be followed which removes flexibility needed to tackle evolving issues with implementation.
  • Consider another case, Court decided to limit the period in which telecom companies have to pay their dues to the government, and overruled a cabinet decision.
  • This is a policy matter that balances interests of telecom companies, consumers and banks.
  • This issue is best judged by the government with oversight by Parliament.
  • And court should step in if there is an illegality.

Way forward

  • Several events have taken place over the last six months that need thorough discussion.
  • This includes ways to tackle the spread of the coronavirus, economic growth which has had a sharp fall in the first quarter of this fiscal year.
  • This has far-reaching implications for creating jobs, stability of the banking system, and government finances.
  • The government is likely to bring in a supplementary budget; indeed, a fresh look at the Union Budget may be required given the changes in basic assumptions since January.
  • The situation at the China border also needs to be discussed.

Consider the question “Anlyse the impact of pandemic on the key organs of the democracy.”

Conclusion

Parliamentarians have a duty towards Indian citizens to fulfil their role in scrutinising the work of the government and guiding policy. Despite the curtailed session and the constraints due to the coronavirus, they should make the best of the limited time to do so. They need to wrest back their rightful role in our democracy.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

What are Question Hour and Zero Hour?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Question hour, Zero Hour

Mains level : Not Much

The Lok Sabha Secretariat officially released the schedule for the monsoon Parliament session with Question Hour being dropped. Zero Hour will also be restricted in both Houses.

This newscard is very narrative in its form and scope.

Q.Discuss the various instruments of Parliamentary Control in India.

What is Question Hour, and what is its significance?

  • Question Hour is the liveliest hour in Parliament. It is during this one hour that MPs ask questions of ministers and hold them accountable for the functioning of their ministries.
  • Prior to Independence, the first question asked of government was in 1893. It was on the burden cast on village shopkeepers who had to provide supplies to touring government officers.
  • The questions that MPs ask are designed to elicit information and trigger suitable action by ministries.
  • Over the last 70 years, MPs have successfully used this parliamentary device to shine a light on government functioning.
  • Their questions have exposed financial irregularities and brought data and information regarding government functioning to the public domain.
  • With the broadcasting since 1991, Question Hour has become one of the most visible aspects of parliamentary functioning.

And what is Zero Hour?

  • While Question Hour is strictly regulated, Zero Hour is an Indian innovation. The phrase does not find mention in the rules of procedure.
  • The concept of Zero Hour started organically in the first decade of Indian Parliament when MPs felt the need for raising important constituency and national issues.
  • During the initial days, Parliament used to break for lunch at 1 pm.
  • Therefore, the opportunity for MPs to raise national issues without an advance notice became available at 12 pm and could last for an hour until the House adjourned for lunch.
  • This led to the hour being popularly referred to as Zero Hour and the issues being raised during this time as Zero Hour submissions.
  • Its importance can be gauged from the support it receives from citizens, media, MPs and presiding officers despite not being part of the rulebook.

How is Question Hour regulated?

  • Parliament has comprehensive rules for dealing with every aspect of Question Hour.
  • And the presiding officers of the two houses are the final authority with respect to the conduct of Question Hour.
  • For example, usually, Question Hour is the first hour of a parliamentary sitting.

What kinds of questions are asked?

  • Parliamentary rules provide guidelines on the kind of questions that can be asked by MPs.
  • Questions have to be limited to 150 words. They have to be precise and not too general.
  • The question should also be related to an area of responsibility of the GoI.
  • Questions should not seek information about matters that are secret or are under adjudication before courts.
  • It is the presiding officers of the two Houses who finally decide whether a question raised by an MP will be admitted for answering by the government.

How frequently is Question Hour held?

  • The process of asking and answering questions starts with identifying the days on which Question Hour will be held.
  • At the beginning of Parliament in 1952, Lok Sabha rules provided for Question Hour to be held every day. Rajya Sabha, on the other hand, had a provision for Question Hour for two days a week.
  • A few months later, this was changed to four days a week. Then from 1964, Question Hour was taking place in Rajya Sabha on every day of the session.
  • Now, Question Hour in both Houses is held on all days of the session.
  • But there are two days when an exception is made. There is no Question Hour on the day the President addresses MPs from both Houses in the Central Hall.
  • Question Hour is not scheduled either on the day the Finance Minister presents the Budget.

How does Parliament manage to get so many questions answered?

  • To streamline the answering of questions raised by MPs, the ministries are put into five groups. Each group answers questions on the day allocated to it.
  • For example, in the last session, on Thursday the Ministries of Civil Aviation, Labour, Housing, and Youth Affairs and Sports were answering questions posed by Lok Sabha MPs.
  • MPs can specify whether they want an oral or written response to their questions.
  • They can put an asterisk against their question signifying that they want the minister to answer that question on the floor. These are referred to as starred questions.
  • After the minister’s response, the MP who asked the question and other MPs can also ask a follow-up question.
  • This is the visible part of Question Hour, where you see MPs trying to corner ministers on the functioning of their ministries on live television.

How do ministers prepare their answers?

  • Ministries receive the questions 15 days in advance so that they can prepare their ministers for Question Hour.
  • They also have to prepare for sharp follow-up questions they can expect to be asked in the House.
  • Governments’ officers are close at hand in a gallery so that they can pass notes or relevant documents to support the minister in answering a question.
  • When MPs are trying to gather data and information about government functioning, they prefer the responses to such queries in writing.
  • These questions are referred to as unstarred questions. The responses to these questions are placed on the table of Parliament.

Are the questions only for ministers?

  • MPs usually ask questions to hold ministers accountable. But the rules also provide them with a mechanism for asking their colleagues a question.
  • Such a question should be limited to the role of an MP relating to a Bill or a resolution being piloted by them or any other matter connected with the functioning of the House for which they are responsible.
  • Should the presiding officer so allow, MPs can also ask a question to a minister at a notice period shorter than 15 days.

Is there a limit to the number of questions that can be asked?

  • Rules on the number of questions that can be asked in a day have changed over the years.
  • In Lok Sabha, until the late 1960s, there was no limit on the number of unstarred questions that could be asked in a day.
  • Now, Parliament rules limit the number of starred and unstarred questions an MP can ask in a day.
  • The total numbers of questions asked by MPs in the starred and unstarred categories are then put in a random ballot.
  • From the ballot in Lok Sabha, 20 starred questions are picked for answering during Question Hour and 230 are picked for written answers.
  • Last year, a record was set when on a single day, after a gap of 47 years, all 20 starred questions were answered in Lok Sabha.

Have there been previous sessions without Question Hour?

  • Parliamentary records show that during the Chinese aggression in 1962, the Winter Session was advanced.
  • The sitting of the House started at 12 pm and there was no Question Hour held. Before the session, changes were made limiting the number of questions.
  • Thereafter, following an agreement between the ruling and the Opposition parties, it was decided to suspend Question Hour.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Quorum not needed for routine standing committee meetings

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Quorum, Parliamentary committees

Mains level : Not Much

The opposition parties in the Rajya Sabha has contradicted the holding the virtual meetings of standing committees to ensure quorum during deliberations.

Try this question from CSP 2018:

Q.With reference to the Parliament of India which of the following Parliamentary Committees scrutinizes and reports to the House whether the powers to make regulations, rules, sub rules, bylaws, etc. conferred by the Constitution or delegated by the Parliament is being properly exercised by the Executive within the scope of such delegation?

(a) Committee on Government Assurances

(b) Committee on Subordinate Legislation

(c) Rules Committee

(d) Business Advisory Committee

What is Quorum?

  • A quorum is the minimum number of members of a deliberative assembly necessary to conduct the business of that group.
  • The requirement for a quorum is protection against totally unrepresentative action in the name of the body by an unduly small number of persons.
  • Article 100 (3) of the Constitution of India stipulates that at least 10% of the total number of members of the House must be present to constitute the quorum to constitute a meeting of either House of Parliament.
  • Article 189 (3) and (4) provides for similar provisions for State Legislatures.
  • For example, if the House has a total membership of 500, at least 50 members must be present for the House to proceed with its business.

What did RS Secretariat say over the requirement of quorum?

  • Parliamentarian these days are unable to travel to Delhi for obvious COVID reasons.
  • The Rajya Sabha secretariat has said that quorum was essential only when the committees are making decisions or adopting reports and not during routine deliberations.

Back2Basics: What are Standing Committees?

  • Standing Committee is a committee consisting of Members of Parliament.
  • It is a permanent and regular committee which is constituted from time to time according to the provisions of an Act of Parliament or Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business.
  • The work done by the Indian Parliament is not only voluminous but also of a complex nature, hence a good deal of its work is carried out in these Parliamentary Committees.
  • Standing Committees are of the following kinds :
  1. Financial Standing Committees (FSC)
  2. Department Related Standing Committees (DRSC)
  3. Others Standing Committees (OSC)

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Explained: How are elections to the Rajya Sabha held?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Rajya Sabha and associated facts

Mains level : Significance of the Rajya Sabha

Another round of Rajya Sabha elections has been completed. There are several features that distinguish elections to the Council of States, or the Upper House of Parliament, from the general elections.

Do you know?

  • Only two UTs elect members to the Rajya Sabha, not all.
  • Polling is held only if the number of candidates exceeds the number of vacancies.
  • Independent members can also be elected etc.

Read this newscard for all such interesting facts which can be directly asked in the prelims.

What is so peculiar about the Rajya Sabha polls?

  • A third of MPs in the Rajya Sabha (which is a permanent House and is not subject to dissolution), from each State, retire once in two years and polls are held to fill up the vacancies.
  • Only elected members of the State Legislative Assemblies can vote in a Rajya Sabha election.
  • The legislators send a batch of new members to the Upper House every two years for a six-year term.
  • In addition, vacancies that arise due to resignation, death or disqualification are filled up through by-polls after which those elected serve out the remainder of their predecessors’ term.

Composition of Rajya Sabha

  • A bloc of MPs belonging to one or more parties can elect a member of their choice if they have the requisite numbers.
  • This is to avoid the principle of majority, which would mean that only candidates put up by ruling parties in the respective States will be elected.
  • The Delhi and Puducherry Assemblies elect members to the Rajya Sabha to represent the two UTs.

What is the election process?

  • Polling for a Rajya Sabha election will be held only if the number of candidates exceeds the number of vacancies.
  • Since the strength of each party in the Assembly is known, it is not difficult to estimate the number of seats a party would win in the Rajya Sabha poll.
  • In many states, parties avoid a contest by fielding candidates only in respect to their strength. Where an extra candidate enters the fray, voting becomes necessary.
  • Candidates fielded by political parties have to be proposed by at least 10 members of the Assembly or 10% of the party’s strength in the House, whichever is less.
  • For independents, there should be 10 proposers, all of whom should be members of the Assembly.

Voting procedure

  • Voting is by single transferable vote, as the election is held on the principle of proportional representation.
  • A single transferable vote means electors can vote for any number of candidates in order of their preference.
  • A candidate requires a specified number of first preference votes to win. Each first choice vote has a value of 100 in the first round.
  • To qualify, a candidate needs one point more than the quotient obtained by dividing the total value of the number of seats for which elections are taking place plus one.

Example: If there are four seats and 180 MLAs voting, the qualifying number will be 180/5= 36 votes or value of 3,600.

Why do not the Rajya Sabha polls have a secret ballot?

  • The Rajya Sabha polls have a system of the open ballot, but it is a limited form of openness.
  • As a measure to check rampant cross-voting, which was taken to mean that the vote had been purchased by corrupt means.
  • There is a system of each party MLA showing his or her marked ballots to the party’s authorised agent (called Whip), before they are put into the ballot box.
  • Showing a marked ballot to anyone other than one’s own party’s authorised agent will render the vote invalid.
  • Not showing the ballot to the authorised agent will also mean that the vote cannot be counted.
  • And independent candidates are barred from showing their ballots to anyone.

Is there any NOTA option in voting?

  • The ECI issued two circulars, on January 24, 2014, and November 12, 2015, giving Rajya Sabha members the option to press the NOTA button in the Upper House polls.
  • However, in 2018, the Supreme Court struck down the provision, holding that the ‘none of the above’ option is only for general elections.
  • It cannot be applied to indirect elections based on proportional representation.

Does cross-voting attract disqualification?

  • The Supreme Court, while declining to interfere with the open ballot system, ruled that not voting for the party candidate will not attract disqualification under the anti-defection law.
  • As voters, MLAs retain their freedom to vote for a candidate of their choice.
  • However, the Court observed that since the party would know who voted against its own candidate, it is free to take disciplinary action against the legislator concerned.

Can a legislator vote without taking oath as a member of the Assembly?

  • While taking oath as a member is for anyone to function as a legislator, the Supreme Court has ruled that a member can vote in a Rajya Sabha election even before taking oath as a legislator.
  • It ruled that voting at the Rajya Sabha polls, being a non-legislative activity, can be performed without taking the oath.
  • A person becomes a member as soon as the list of elected members is notified by the ECI, it said.
  • Further, a member can also propose a candidate before taking the oath.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Parliamentary Committees and their Significance

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Parliamentary committees and its types

Mains level : Parliamentary committees

Amid the on-going India-China border tension, a Parliamentary Standing Committee report on Sino-India relations post the Doklam standoff has been released. It assumes significance as it is the only detailed report on the border issue that has been made available to the public.

Try this question from our AWE initiative:

Q.2) What are parliamentary committees? How do they ensure legislature’s and executive’s efficiency and accountability? (250 Words)

Report on Sino-Indian relations post Doklam

  • Submitted by the Shashi Tharoor-led Standing Committee on External Affairs, the report on Sino-India relations including Doklam throws light on border situation and cooperation in international organisations,
  • This Standing Committee report – a bipartisan one as the committee has members from ruling and opposition parties – is one of the very few documents available in which the defence and foreign secretaries.
  • It clarified the government’s official position on India-China border issues including the reported transgressions by the Chinese in the region.
  • It had cautioned the government that it needed to have “healthy scepticism” while dealing with China.
  • The Committee has urged the Government not to let its vigil down in order to prevent any untoward incident in future.

What are the Parliamentary Committees?

  • A good deal of Parliamentary business is transacted in the committees. Both Houses of Parliament have a similar committee structure, with a few exceptions.
  • Their appointment, terms of office, functions and procedure of conducting business are also more or less similar and are regulated as per rules made by the two Houses under Article 118(1) of the Constitution.
  • Broadly, Parliamentary Committees are of two kinds – Standing Committees and ad hoc Committees.
  • The former are elected or appointed every year or periodically and their work goes on, more or less, on a continuous basis.
  • The latter are appointed on an ad hoc basis as the need arises and they cease to exist as soon as they complete the task assigned to them.

Their significances

  • Apart from debates on bills and issues discussed and debated on the floor of the House, more detailed and in-depth discussions take place on issues as well as legislation in the parliamentary standing committees.
  • Here, MPs belonging to all major parties put forward their views without much consideration to the political differences they have.
  • A considerable amount of legislative work gets done in these smaller units of MPs from both Houses, across political parties.
  • Their reports are tabled in both Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha. The Houses do not hold a specific debate on the report, but it is often referred to during the discussions on the bills and the key issues.
  • Committee meetings also provide a forum where members can engage with domain experts as well as senior-most officials of the concerned ministries.

Additional readings: https://knowindia.gov.in/profile/the-union/parliamentary-committees.php

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Should Rajya Sabha be abolished?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Articles related to Rajya Sabha.

Mains level : Paper 2- Importance of Rajya Sabha.

This article is about Rajya Sabha, the second chamber of our union legislature. Its utility was intensely debated in the Constituent Assembly. Now, after almost seven decades of its existence, we know that the house has proved its utility. So, what was the reasoning of those who were in support of its creation and what those who opposed its creation had on their mind? How bicameralism is connected to federalism? You’ll come to know the answers to these questions after reading the article.

Historical background

  • The Rajya Sabha came into being on April 3, 1952 and held its first session on May 13 the same year.
  • The central legislature that came into being under the Government of India Act, 1919 was bicameral.
  • Under 1919 Act, Council of States had 60 members and Legislative Assembly had 145 members.
  • The membership and voting norms for the Council of States were restrictive.
  • These restrictions meant only wealthy landowners, merchants and those with legislative experience could enter it.
  • Women could neither vote nor seek membership.
  • The Government of India Act, 1935 proposed an elaborate and improved version of the second chamber, but this never materialised.
  • The Constituent Assembly, which was formed in 1947, after adoption of the Constitution became the Provisional Parliament and made laws till 1952.

Bicameralism and the utility of second house

  • Bicameralism is a principle that requires the consent of two differently constituted chambers of Parliament for making or changing laws.
  • This principle came into operation in 1787 with the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.
  • At present, 79 Parliaments of the world (41% of the total number) are bicameral.
  • In The Federalist, the famous essay, it was stated that the second chamber enables a second and reflective expression of representative opinion besides checking the propensity to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions.
  • French philosopher Montesquieu who said, “The legislative body being composed of two parts, they check one another by the mutual privilege of rejecting”.
  • Walter Bagehot later noted that the retarding chamber will impede minor instances of parliamentary tyranny, though it will not prevent or really impede revolution.

Federalism and link with bicameralism

  • Federalism has been in vogue since ancient times when some states got together to confer the power of law-making on a central authority.
  • But modern federalism is entirely different given the complexity of geographical, regional, social and economic diversities marking the constituent units of a federation or a union.
  • It is more so in India. The U.S. is a federation and so is India — each unit has a set of unique features.
  • Federalism and bicameralism are linked because the federal character of a nation comprising constituent units can be reflected in, and secured by, a bicameral legislature.

Debate in the Constituent Assembly over need for the second house

  • The proposal for the Rajya Sabha as a second chamber was subjected to serious argumentation and had a narrow escape.
  • Opponents’ stand: A member of the Constituent Assembly asserted that an Upper House was not essential and viewed it as a creation of imperialism.
  • Other member warned that such a chamber would only prove to be a “clog in the wheel of progress” of the nation.
  • The proponents’ stand: A supporter of idea felt that it would introduce an element of sobriety and second thought besides lending voice to the constituent units in the legislative scheme of things.
  • Ananthasayanam Ayyangar argued that a second chamber would enable the genius of the people to have full play besides checking hasty legislation.
  • Replying to the debate on the motion N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar had to make a strong case for the second chamber.
  • He argued that the most that we expect the Second Chamber to do is 1) to hold dignified debates on important issues 2) to delay legislation which might be the outcome of passions of the moment until the passions have subsided.

Consider the question, “Examine the role played by the Rajya Sabha as a law-making body. Do you agree that the Rajya Sabha has been successful in fulfilling the role expected of it by the makers of our Constitution?”

Conclusion

The mandate of the Rajya Sabha, as can be gleaned from the Constituent Assembly debates and the experiences of other Parliaments, is legislation — to revise or delay legislation without proving a clog in the wheel of the progress; to represent the interests of the States as a federal chamber, and be a deliberative body holding high-quality debates on important issues.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Should we do away with the MPLADS?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MPLADS and its provision.

Mains level : Paper 2- Issues with MPLADS.

Since its inception in 1993, MPLADS has continued uninterrupted for 27 years. But COVID-19 came as a roadblock for MPLADS. Recently, it was suspended by the government for two years. As expected it led to huge political drama. However, as an aspirant, it is our duty to cut the drama out and focus on issues that matter. This article discusses MPLADS and argues for its abolition owing to various issues associated with it.

Reason for suspension of MPLADS

  • The government suspended the scheme to strengthen the government’s efforts in managing the challenges and adverse impact of COVID-19 in the country.
  • It has been suspended for two years.
  • BTW scheme in short: Each MP has the choice to suggest to the District Collector for works to the tune of ₹5 crores per annum to be taken up in his/her constituency.

Why should MPLADS be abolished?

1. It goes against the spirit of the Constitution

  • The scheme violates one of the cardinal principles: separation of powers.
  • Simply put, this scheme, in effect, gives an executive function to legislators or the legislature.
  • The argument that MPs only recommend projects, but the final choice and implementation rest with the district authorities is unfounded.
  • There are hardly any authorities in the district who have the courage to defy the wishes of an MP.

2. Lacunae in implementation

  • Consider some of the observations made by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India:
  • Expenditure incurred by the executing agencies being less than the amount booked.
  • Utilisation of funds between 49 to 90% of the booked amount.
  • The scheme envisages that works under the scheme should be limited to asset creation, but 78% of the works recommended were for improvement of existing assets.
  • Wide variations in quantities executed against the quantities specified in the BOQ (Bills of Quantity) in 137 of the 707 works test-checked. Variations ranged from 16 to 2312%.
  • Use of lesser quantities of material than specified by contractors resulting in excess payments and sub-standard works.
  • Delays in issuing work orders ranging from 5 to 387 days in 57% of the works against the requirement of issuing the work order within 45 days.
  • Extensions of time granted to contractors without following the correct procedure.
  • Register of assets created, as required under the scheme, not maintained, therefore location and existence of assets could not be verified.

3. Wide variation in utilisation of MPLADS funds

  • A report published in IndiaSpend has some very interesting insights based on data made available to it by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.
  • A year after they took office, 298 of 543 members of the 16th Lok Sabha— have not spent a rupee from the ₹5 crore.
  • Though ₹1,757 crore had been released for MPLADs, only ₹281 crore had been utilised by all the 543 MPs till May 15, 2015.
  • This means only 16% of the money had been spent in one year by all the MPs put together, because the Lok Sabha was constituted in May 2014.
  • Since the MPLADS began in 1993, ₹5,000 crore was lying unspent with various district authorities by May 15, 2015.
  • It is clear from the details above, as well as later experience, that most MPs use money under MPLADS quite haphazardly, and a significant portion of it is left unspent.

4. Misuse of the money under MPLADS

  • There is widespread talk of money under MPLADS being used to appease or oblige two sets of people: opinion-makers or opinion-influencers, and favourite contractors.
  • There have been cases of the contractor and the MP being financially linked with each other.

5. Legality issue

  • The constitutional validity of MPLADS was challenged in the Supreme Court of India in 1999, followed by petitions in 2000, 2003, 2004, and 2005.
  • The combined judgment for all these petitions was delivered on May 6, 2010, with the scheme being held to be constitutional.
  • The SC seems to have placed an unquestioned trust in the efficacy of the scheme of implementation of MPLADS drawn up by the government without an assessment of the situation prevalent in the field.
  • The court should pay more attention to its skewed implementation, evidence of which is available in audit reports.

Contrast and compare the provision of MPLADS with the Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana. A direct question on the MPLADS could be asked by the UPSC, for instance, consider this question-“There has been the debate around the MPLADS. Discuss the issues involved in the MPLADS.”

Conclusion

Reports of underutilisation and misutilisation of MPLADS funds continue to surface at regular intervals but there seems to have been no serious attempt to do anything about it till now. Some concrete decisions on the future of the scheme is now inevitable.


 Back2Basics: What is MPLADS?

  • MPLAD is a central government scheme, under which MPs can recommend development programmes involving the spending of Rs 5 crore every year in their respective constituencies.
  • MPs from both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, including nominated ones, can do so.
  • MPs do not receive any money under these schemes.
  • The government transfers it directly to the respective local authorities.
  • The legislators can only recommend works in their constituencies based on a set of guidelines.
  • For the MPLAD Scheme, the guidelines focus on the creation of durable community assets like roads, school buildings etc.
  • Recommendations for non-durable assets can be made only under limited circumstances.

For example, last month, the government allowed the use of MPLAD funds for the purchase of personal protection equipment, coronavirus testing kits etc.

 

 

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

MPLADS funds suspended over COVID-19 crisis

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MPLADS

Mains level : MPLADS and its implementation

The Union Cabinet gave its nod to the temporary suspension of MPLAD Funds during 2020-21 and 2021-22 in view of the adverse impact of the outbreak of COVID-19 in India.

Why suspend MPLAD?

  • The consolidated amount of MPLAD Funds for 2 years – Rs 7,900 crores – will go to Consolidated Fund of India.
  • The Cabinet has also approved an ordinance to reduce the salaries, allowances and pensions of Members of Parliament (MPs), including the Prime Minister, by 30 per cent for one year.
  • The amount so collected would be utilized in the fight against coronavirus.

What is the MPLAD scheme?

  • The Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) is a programme first launched during the Narasimha Rao Government in 1993.
  • It was aimed towards providing funds for developmental works recommended by individual MPs.

Funds available

  • The MPs then were entitled to recommend works to the tune of Rs 1 crore annually between 1994-95 and 1997-98, after which the annual entitlement was enhanced to Rs 2 crore.
  • The UPA government in 2011-12 raised the annual entitlement to Rs 5 crore per MP.

Implementation

  • To implement their plans in an area, MPs have to recommend them to the District Authority of the respective Nodal District.
  • The District Authorities then identify Implementing Agencies which execute the projects.
  • The respective District Authority is supposed to oversee the implementation and has to submit monthly reports, audit reports, and work completion reports to the Nodal District Authority.
  • The MPLADS funds can be merged with other schemes such as MGNREGA and Khelo India.

Guidelines for MPLADS implementation

  • The document ‘Guidelines on MPLADS’ was published by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation in June 2016 in this regard.
  • It stated the objective of the scheme to enable MPs to recommend works of developmental nature with emphasis on the creation of durable community assets based on the locally felt needs in their Constituencies.
  • Right from inception of the Scheme, durable assets of national priorities viz. drinking water, primary education, public health, sanitation and roads, etc. should be created.
  • It recommended MPs to works costing at least 15 per cent of their entitlement for the year for areas inhabited by Scheduled Caste population and 7.5 per cent for areas inhabited by ST population.
  • It layy down a number of development works including construction of railway halt stations, providing financial assistance to recognised bodies, cooperative societies, installing CCTV cameras etc.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

What is Finance Bill?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Finance Bill

Mains level : Finance Bill

The Parliament has passed the Finance Bill 2020 with 40 amendments without any discussion.

Highlights of the Bill

  • Among the important amendments included was one enabling the government to raise additional excise duty on petrol by up to Rs 18 per litre and diesel by up to Rs 12 per litre when required.
  • Amendments enabling the taxation of NRIs’ India-controlled income above Rs 15 lakh, and another extending the DDT exemption to REITs and Infrastructure Investment trusts were passed.
  • The Bill also changes the definition of ‘Resident’, as stipulated under the Income Tax Act.
  • Presently, a person is considered a resident of India, i.e. their global income is taxable in India if they are in the country for more than 182 days a year. This has now been reduced to 120 days.
  • The amendments also include provisions for levying TDS of 1 per cent on e-commerce transactions.

What is a Finance Bill?

  • As per Article 110 of the Constitution, the Finance Bill is a Money Bill.
  • The Finance Bill is a part of the Union Budget, stipulating all the legal amendments required for the changes in taxation proposed by the Finance Minister.
  • This Bill encompasses all amendments required in various laws pertaining to tax, in accordance with the tax proposals made in the Union Budget.
  • The Finance Bill, as a Money Bill, needs to be passed by the Lok Sabha — the lower house of the Parliament. Post the Lok Sabha’s approval, the Finance Bill becomes Finance Act.

Difference between a Money Bill and the Finance Bill

1) Money Bill

  • A Money Bill has to be introduced in the Lok Sabha as per Section 110 of the Constitution. Then, it is transmitted to the Rajya Sabha for its recommendations.
  • The Rajya Sabha has to return the Bill with recommendations in 14 days.
  • However, the Lok Sabha can reject all or some of the recommendations.

2) Finance Bill

  • In a general sense, any Bill that relates to revenue or expenditure is a Financial Bill.
  • The Finance Bill is introduced in Lok Sabha.
  • Rajya Sabha can recommend amendments in the bill. However, the bill has to be passed by the Parliament within 75 days of introduction.

>Types of Finance Bills

Type I

  • Financial Bill Cat-1 is a bill which contains any of the matters specified in Article 110 but does not exclusively deal with such matters.
  • For example- a bill which contains a taxation clause, but does not deal solely with taxation under Article 117 (1), has two features in common with a money bill.
  1. It cannot be introduced in the Rajya Sabha.
  2. It can only be introduced in Lok Sabha with the prior recommendation of the President.(Similarities)
  • But has one feature uncommon that is, not being a Money Bill, the Rajya Sabha has the same power to reject or amend such Financial Bill subject to limitation.

Type II

  • It is a finance bill which merely involves expenditure and does not include any of the matters specified in Article 110.
  • It is an Ordinary Bill and may be initiated in either House and the Rajya Sabha has full power to reject or ament it.
  • It is thus apparent that all Money Bills are Financial Bills but all Financial Bills are not Money Bills.

Who decides the Bill is a Finance Bill?

  • The Speaker of the Lok Sabha is authorised to decide whether the Bill is a Money Bill or not.
  • Also, the Speaker’s decision shall be deemed to be final.

Why Finance Bill is needed?

  • The Union Budget proposes many tax changes for the upcoming financial year, even if not all of those proposed changes find a mention in the Finance Minister’s Budget speech.
  • These proposed changes pertain to several existing laws dealing with various taxes in the country.
  • The Finance Bill seeks to insert amendments into all those laws concerned, without having to bring out a separate amendment law for each of those Acts.
  • For instance, a Union Budget’s proposed tax changes may require amending the various sections of the Income Tax law, Stamp Act, Money Laundering law, etc.
  • The Finance Bill overrides and makes changes in the existing laws wherever required.

What changes can be made via Finance Bill?

  • The most awaited changes in the tax proposals in the Union Budget usually pertain to personal income tax.
  • For taxpayers across the country, the most awaited moment is when the Finance Minister’s speech announces an increase in minimum income threshold, or declares any changes in income tax slabs to make it less costly, or other exemptions.
  • In addition, there might be changes in the rules, procedures, and deadlines for filing tax returns or the payment of tax itself.
  • For instance, there might be a change in the amount of penalty for missing the deadline. Those proposed changes would typically need to be brought in via amending the Income Tax Act.
  • Among other changes, the FM may propose in the Union Budget with regard to the rates or processes for payment or administration of stamp duty levied on various instruments.
  • Such a change would need to be brought in via an amendment to the Stamp Act.
  • Since the introduction of GST, there is no amendment to indirect taxes in the Union Budget, since that is under the purview of the GST Council.

 

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

What are Supplementary Grants?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Supplementary grants

Mains level : Various grants in Parliament

Supplementary Grants

Lok Sabha recently held voting on supplementary demands for grants for Jammu and Kashmir and passed the proposals on voice vote.

What are Supplementary Grants?

  • The additional grant required to meet the required expenditure of the government is called Supplementary Grants.
  • When grants, authorised by the Parliament, fall short of the required expenditure, an estimate is presented before the Parliament for Supplementary or Additional grants.
  • These grants are presented and passed by the Parliament before the end of the financial year.
  • When actual expenditure incurred exceeds the approved grants of the Parliament, the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Railways presents a Demand for Excess Grant.

How it works?

  • The Comptroller and Auditor General of India bring such excesses to the notice of the Parliament.
  • The Public Accounts Committee examines these excesses and gives recommendations to the Parliament.
  • The Demand for Excess Grants is made after the actual expenditure is incurred and is presented to the Parliament after the end of the financial year in which the expenses were made.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Nominated members of Rajya Sabha

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nominated members in RS

Mains level : Ethical issue involved

Former CJI Ranjan Gogoi has been nominated as a member of Rajya Sabha.

Nominated members in RS

  • As per the Fourth Schedule to the Constitution of India on 26 January 1950, the Rajya Sabha was to consist of 216 members of which 12 members were to be nominated by the President and the remaining 204 elected to represent the States.
  • The present strength, however, is 245 members of whom 233 are representatives of the states and union territories and 12 are nominated by the President.
  • The Rajya Sabha is not subject to dissolution; one-third of its members retire every second year.
  • The 12 nominated members of the Rajya Sabha are persons who are eminent in particular fields, and are well known contributors in the particular field.
  • The nominated members are usually amongst persons having special knowledge or practical experience in literature, science, art and social service.

Constitutional provisions

  • 80(1)(a) of Constitution of India makes provision for the nomination of 12 members to the Rajya Sabha by the President of India in accordance with provisions of Arts.80(3).
  • 80(3) says that the persons to be nominated as members must be possessing special knowledge or practical experience in respect of such matters as the following namely : Literature, science, art and social service.

Earlier CJIs in other Offices

  • Justice Hidayatullah was appointed vice-president nine years after his tenure as CJI ended (1979).
  • Justice Ranganath Mishra was appointed six years after his retirement (1998).
  • Justice Bahraul Islam served as a member of the Rajya Sabha several years before he was elevated to the SC (1983).
  • Justice Subba Rao, who contested for the post of president (and lost to Zakir Hussain) was roundly criticised for the decision at that time.

Issues with CJI’s appointment

  • Late Arun Jaitley cautioned, in 2012, that “pre-retirement judgments are influenced by a desire for a post-retirement job”. Perhaps, those words were never more relevant than they are today.
  • The immediacy and hurried nature of the present appointment, barely four months after Justice Gogoi retired, is bound to give rise to questions about its context.
  • It was a tenure that inspired much scrutiny; a tenure which saw the repeated use of sealed envelopes, the contents of which were known only to the government; a tenure which recorded a significant and frequent number of judgments in favour of the executive.

What were the alternatives?

  • Several appointments to administrative bodies require a cooling-off period for individuals so as to eliminate the possibility or suspicion of a conflict of interest or quid pro quo.
  • Officials who retire from sensitive positions are barred from accepting any other appointment for a period of time, normally two years.
  • These cooling-off periods in posts are premised on the snapping off of the nexus between previous incumbency and new appointment by the interposition of a sufficient time gap.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Speaker vs Governor Tussle

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Discretionary powers of Governor

Mains level : Speaker vs Governor Tussle

With the Supreme Court set to hear on a plea seeking a directive to the government in Madhya Pradesh to take a floor test “within 12 hours”, the spotlight is back on the legal debate on the powers of the Governor and the Speaker under the Constitution.

Primacy to Floor Test

  • Since 2014, the legal-political tussle between the Governor and Speaker has prompted the Supreme Court’s intervention in three major instances — in the Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand cases in 2016 and in the Karnataka case in 2019.
  • In all three cases, the court emphasised the primacy of the floor test.
  • In the Arunachal and Uttarakhand cases, the House was in suspended animation as President’s Rule had been imposed.
  • The Supreme Court ordered that the House be summoned and a floor test held to end the impasse.
  • But Article 212 of the Constitution bars courts from inquiring into proceedings of the Legislature.

Earlier instances

  • Earlier, the Sarkaria Commission had recommended that, if the CM neglects or refuses to summon the Assembly for a floor test, the Governor should summon the Assembly.
  • If the House is adjourned sine die or prorogued without holding a floor test, then all options are open before the Governor.
  • However, when the House is in session, the question of whether the court can direct the Speaker to hold a floor test is yet to be settled.
  • In 1998, in the Jagadambika Pal case, the SC had ordered a composite floor test when the House was in session.
  • However, in that case, there were two claimants to the chief minister’s post.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

When does Speaker suspend MPs from Lok Sabha?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : Dignity of the Parliament

Seven MPs of a political party were suspended for unruly behaviour in the Lok Sabha. The motion was passed by a voice vote.

What is the reason for suspending an MP?

  • The general principle is that it is the role and duty of the Speaker of Lok Sabha to maintain order so that the House can function smoothly.
  • This is a daunting task even at the best of times.
  • In order to ensure that proceedings are conducted in the proper manner, the Speaker is empowered to force a Member to withdraw from the House (for the remaining part of the day), or to place him/her under suspension.

What are the rules under which the Speaker acts?

Rule Number 373 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business says:

  • The Speaker, if is of the opinion that the conduct of any Member is grossly disorderly, may direct such Member to withdraw immediately from the House, and any Member so ordered to withdraw shall do so forthwith and shall remain absent during the remainder of the day’s sitting.

To deal with more recalcitrant Members, the Speaker may take recourse to Rules 374 and 374A. Rule 374 says:

  1. The Speaker may, it deems it necessary, name a Member who disregards the authority of the Chair or abuses the rules of the House by persistently and wilfully obstructing the business thereof.
  2. If a Member is so named by the Speaker, the Speaker shall, on a motion being made forthwith put the question that the Member (naming such Member) be suspended from the service of the House for a period not exceeding the remainder of the session: Provided that the House may, at any time, on a motion being made, resolve that such suspension be terminated.
  3. A member suspended under this rule shall forthwith withdraw from the precincts of the House.

What is the procedure for revocation of a Member’s suspension?

  • While the Speaker is empowered to place a Member under suspension, the authority for revocation of this order is not vested in her.
  • It is for the House, if it so desires, to resolve on a motion to revoke the suspension.

What happens in Rajya Sabha?

  • Like the Speaker in Lok Sabha, the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha is empowered under Rule Number 255 of its Rule Book to “direct any Member whose conduct is in his opinion grossly disorderly to withdraw immediately” from the House.
  • Any Member so ordered to withdraw shall do so forthwith and shall absent himself during the remainder of the day’s meeting.
  • The Chairman may name a Member who disregards the authority of the Chair or abuses the rules of the Council by persistently and wilfully obstructing business.
  • In such a situation, the House may adopt a motion suspending the Member from the service of the House for a period not exceeding the remainder of the session.
  • The House may, however, by another motion, terminate the suspension.
  • Unlike the Speaker, however, the Rajya Sabha Chairman does not have the power to suspend a Member.

Way Forward: Striking a balance

  • There can be no question that the enforcement of the supreme authority of the Speaker is essential for smooth conduct of proceedings. A balance has to be struck.
  • However, it must be remembered that her job is to run the House, not to lord over it.
  • The solution to unruly behaviour has to be long-term and consistent with democratic values.
  • A step in that same direction could be to discontinue the practice of herding people out of the visitors’ gallery when the House witnesses chaos.
  • So, the ruling party of the day invariably insists on the maintenance of discipline, just as the Opposition insists on its right to protest. And their positions change when their roles flip.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Department-related Standing Committees (DRSCs)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Standing Committees

Mains level : Parliamentary procedures and functioning

Fewer sittings of Parliament are compensated by the working of department-related standing committees (DRSCs) praised Rajya Sabha Chairman.

What are Standing Committees?

  • Standing Committee is a committee consisting of Members of Parliament.
  • It is a permanent and regular committee which is constituted from time to time according to the provisions of an Act of Parliament or Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business.
  • The work done by the Indian Parliament is not only voluminous but also of a complex nature, hence a good deal of its work is carried out in these Parliamentary Committees.
  • Standing Committees are of the following kinds :
  1. Financial Standing Committees (FSC)
  2. Department Related Standing Committees (DRSC)
  3. Others Standing Committees (OSC)

About DRSCs

  • There are 24 Department-related Standing Committees (DRSCs). Each of these committees have 31 members – 21 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha.
  • The 17 Departmentally Related Standing Committees were formally constituted with effect from April, 1993.
  • After experiencing the working of the DRSC system for over a decade, the system was restructured in July,2004 wherein the number of DRSCs was increased from 17 to 24.
  • These members are to be nominated by the Speaker of Lok Sabha or the Chairman of Rajya Sabha respectively. The term of office of these committees does not exceed one year.
  • These committees are serviced either by Lok Sabha secretariat or the Rajya Sabha secretariat depending on who has appointed the chairman of that committee.

Equal to 10 House sittings

  • During a usual sitting of Parliament, the Houses are convened for six hours. Calculating it accordingly, the meeting of these committees amount to 10 sittings of Parliament.
  • Proportionately, the work done by the 16 Committees of Lok Sabha amounts to another 20 sittings of the Parliament.
  • In all, the work put in by the total 24 DRSCs in examining the Demands for Grants of all the ministries equals 30 days of functioning of the Parliament, which is quite significant.
  • If the working of the committees is taken into account for the entire year, it will amount to significantly higher number of days.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

In news: Two-child Norm

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Art. 47

Mains level : Population explosion in India

A Rajya Sabha MP has introduced a Private Member’s Bill on two-child norms.

Key propositions of the Bill

  • Essentially, the Bill aims to amend the Constitution in order to incentivise limiting families to two children by offering tax concessions, priority in social benefit schemes and school admissions, among other things.
  • It proposes incentives in taxation, education and employment for people who limit their family size to two children.

Article 47A

  • The Bill has sought the incorporation of a new provision, Article 47A in Part IV of the Constitution, to withdraw all concessions from people who fail to adhere to the “small-family” norm.
  • Article 47A says the following:

 “47A. The State shall promote small family norms by offering incentives in taxes, employment, education etc. to its people who keep their family limited to two children and shall withdraw every concession from and deprive such incentives to those not adhering to small family norm, to keep the growing population under control.”

Note: Article 47 of the Indian Constitution is one of the DPSP  which directs the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of intoxicating drinks and drugs which are injurious to health.

Why such Bill?

  • The Bill’s Statement of Object and Reasons states that the fact that India’s population has already crossed 125 crore is “really frightening”.
  • It goes on to say that India’s population has doubled in the last 40 years and that it is expected to unseat China as the world’s most populous nation in the next couple of decades.
  • Despite the fact that we have framed a National Population Control Policy, we are the second most populous country in the world.
  • Further, the population explosion will cause “many problems” for our future generations.
  • The Bill also makes a reference to “overburdened” natural resources that are overexploited because of overpopulation.

Statewide policies relating to two-child norms

Assam Cabinet has recently decided that those with more than two children will be ineligible for government jobs from 2021. Other states with similar norms:

Rajasthan: For government jobs, candidates who have more than two children are not eligible for appointment.

Madhya Pradesh: The state follows the two-child norm since 2001. Under Madhya Pradesh Civil Services (General Condition of Services) Rules, if the third child was born on or after January 26, 2001, one becomes ineligible for government service. The rule also applies to higher judicial services.

Telangana: Under Section 19 (3) read with Sections 156 (2) and 184 (2) of Telangana Panchayat Raj Act, 1994, a person with more than two children shall be disqualified from contesting election. However, if a person had more than two children before May 30, 1994, he or she will not be disqualified.  The same sections in the Andhra Pradesh: AP Panchayat Raj Act, 1994, apply to Andhra Pradesh, where a person having more than two children shall be disqualified from contesting election.

Gujarat: In 2005, the government amended the Gujarat Local Authorities Act. The amendment disqualifies anyone with more than two children from contesting elections for bodies of local self-governance — panchayats, municipalities and municipal corporations.

Maharashtra: The Maharashtra Zilla Parishads And Panchayat Samitis Act disqualifies people who have more than two children from contesting local body elections (gram panchayats to municipal corporations). The Maharashtra Civil Services Rules, 2005 states that a person having more than two children is disqualified from holding a post in the state government. Women with more than two children are also not allowed to benefit from the Public Distribution System.

Karnataka: The Karnataka (Gram Swaraj and Panchayat Raj) Act, 1993 does not bar individuals with more than two children from contesting elections to local bodies like the gram panchayat. The law, however, says that a person is ineligible to contest “if he does not have a sanitary latrine for the use of the members of his family”.

Odisha: The Odisha Zilla Parishad Act bars those individuals with more than two children from contesting.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Private Members Bill

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Private Members Bill

Mains level : Difference between private and government Bills

A member in Rajya Sabha appeared to abandon his plan of introducing a private member’s Bill on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), a code that would be applicable to all religious communities in personal matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption.

Private Member’s Bill

  • A private member’s Bill is different from a government Bill and is piloted by an MP who is not a minister. An MP who is not a minister is a private member.
  • Individual MPs may introduce private member’s Bill to draw the government’s attention to what they might see as issues requiring legislative intervention.

Difference between private and government Bills

  • While both private members and ministers take part in the lawmaking process, Bills introduced by private members are referred to as private member’s Bills and those introduced by ministers are called government Bills.
  • Government Bills are backed by the government and also reflect its legislative agenda.
  • The admissibility of a Private Bill is decided by the Chairman in the case of the Rajya Sabha and the Speaker in the case of the Lok Sabha.
  • Before the Bill can be listed for introduction, the Member must give at least a month’s notice, for the House Secretariat to examine it for compliance with constitutional provisions and rules on legislation.
  • While a government Bill can be introduced and discussed on any day, a private member’s bill can only be introduced and discussed on Fridays.

Has a private member’s bill ever become a law?

  • No private member’s Bill has been passed by Parliament since 1970.
  • To date, Parliament has passed 14 such Bills, six of them in 1956.
  • In the 14th Lok Sabha, of the over 300 private member’s Bills introduced, roughly four per cent were discussed, the remaining 96 per cent lapsed without a single dialogue.
  • The selection of Bills for discussion is done through a ballot.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Explained: Regulation of Parliamentary Speech and Conduct

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Regulation of parliamentary speech and conduct of the representatives.

 

Two days of heated exchanges in Parliament have brought back recurring questions around “unparliamentarily” speech and conduct.

No absolute privilege

  • Article 105(2) of the Constitution lays down that “no Member of Parliament shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any committee thereof”.
  • However MPs do not enjoy the freedom to say whatever they want inside the House.

Checks on MPs’ speech

  • Whatever an MP says is subject to the discipline of the Rules of Parliament, the “good sense” of Members, and the control of proceedings by the Speaker.
  • These checks ensure that MPs cannot use “defamatory or indecent or undignified or unparliamentary words” inside the House.
  • Rule 380 (“Expunction”) of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha regulates the speech of MPs.
  • It says: “If the Speaker is of opinion that words have been used in debate which are defamatory or indecent or unparliamentary or undignified, the Speaker may, while exercising discretion order that such words be expunged from the proceedings of the House.”
  • Rule 381 says: “The portion of the proceedings of the House so expunged shall be marked by asterisks and an explanatory footnote shall be inserted in the proceedings as follows: ‘Expunged as ordered by the Chair’.”

What are Unparliamentary expressions?

  • There are phrases and words, literally in thousands, both in English and in other Indian languages that are “unparliamentary”.
  • The Presiding Officers — Speaker of Lok Sabha and Chairperson of Rajya Sabha — have the job of keeping these bad words out of Parliament’s records.
  • For their reference and help, the Lok Sabha Secretariat has brought out a bulky tome titled ‘Unparliamentary Expressions’, the 2004 edition of which ran into 900 pages.
  • The list contains several words and expressions that would probably be considered rude or offensive in most cultures; however, it also has stuff that is likely to be thought of as being fairly harmless or innocuous.
  • The state legislatures too are guided mainly by the same book, which also draws heavily from unparliamentarily words and phrases used in the Vidhan Sabhas and Vidhan Parishads of India.

Examples of unparliamentary

  • Among the words and phrases that have been deemed unparliamentary are “scumbag”, “shit”, “badmashi”, “bad” (as in “An MP is a bad man”), and “bandicoot”, which is unparliamentary if an MP uses it for another, but which is fine if he uses it for himself.
  • If the Presiding Officer is a “lady”, no MP can address her as “beloved Chairperson”.
  • The government or another MP cannot be accused of “bluffing”. “Bribe”, “blackmail”, “bribery”, “thief”, “thieves”, “dacoits”, “bucket of shit”, “damn”, “deceive”, “degrade”, and “darling”, are all unparliamentary.
  • MPs or Presiding Officers can’t be accused of being “double minded”, having “double standards”, being of “doubtful honesty”, being “downtrodden”, indulging in “double talk”, being “lazy”, “lousy”, a “nuisance” or a “loudmouth”.
  • No Member or Minister can be accused of having “deliberately concealed”, “concocted”, of being of a “confused mind”, or being “confused and unintelligent”.
  • An illiterate MP can’t be called “angootha chhaap”, and it is unparliamentary to suggest that a member should be sent to the “ajayabghar” (museum).

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

President’s Address

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Provisions for the President/Governors' address

Mains level : President/Governors' address

 

Today, with the first day of the Budget Session of Parliament, Hon’ble President will address a joint sitting of the two Houses.

President’s or Governor’s Address

  • Commonly referred to as the President’s or Governor’s Address, they are a constitutional requirement.
  • The Constitution gives the President and the Governor the power to address a sitting of the legislature. The special power is with regard to two occasions.
  • The first is to address the opening session of a new legislature after a general election. The second is to address the first sitting of the legislature each year.
  • A session of a new or a continuing legislature cannot begin without fulfilling this requirement.
  • When the Constitution came into force, the President was required to address each session of Parliament.
  • So during the provisional Parliament in 1950, the President gave an address for all three sessions. At the suggestion of Speaker G V Mavalankar, the first Constitutional Amendment in 1951 changed this position.
  • Besides being a constitutional requirement, the President’s or Governor’s Address is keenly watched as it outlines the government’s policy agenda and stand on issues.

What procedures follow the address?

  • After the President or Governor delivers the address, a debate takes place not only on the contents of the address but also the broad issues of governance in the country.
  • This then paves the way for discussion on the Budget.

Significance of the address

  • The President’s Address in India is mirrored on the British system.
  • During the framing of the Constitution, B R Ambedkar drew a similarity between the President and the monarch under the English system.
  • He said the President “is the Head of State but not of the executive. He represents the nation but does not rule the nation.
  • He is the symbol of the nation. His place in the administration is that of a ceremonial device of a seal by which the nation’s decisions are made known”.
  • The Constitution binds the President and the Governor to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers of the Union and state governments respectively, on a majority of issues.
  • Therefore, the speech that the President or the Governor reads before the legislature is the viewpoint of the government and is prepared by it.

Are there parallels in other countries?

  • Similar provisions exist in other democracies. In the United States, it is referred to as the “State of the Union”.
  • The phrase comes from an article in the US Constitution which specifies that the President from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.
  • In the United Kingdom, it is referred to as the Queen’s Speech and is part of the ceremony to mark the formal start of the parliamentary year.

What is the content of the President’s or Governor’s address?

  • During the making of the Constitution, an unsuccessful attempt was made to bring some specificity to the content of the President’s Address.
  • The President’s speech follows the convention of the British system, where it contains legislative and policy proposals that the government intends to initiate.
  • The speech also recaps the government’s accomplishment in the previous years. The contents of the speech are put together by aggregating inputs from various ministries of the government.

Is the text of the speech binding?

  • The President or a Governor cannot refuse to perform the constitutional duty of delivering an address to the legislature.
  • But there can be situations when they deviate from the text of the speech prepared by the government.
  • So far, there have been no instances of President doing so. But there has been an occasion when a Governor skipped a portion of the address to the Assembly.
  • In 1969, the Governor of West Bengal skipped two paragraphs of the address prepared by the United Front government.
  • The skipped portion described as unconstitutional the dismissal of the first United Front government by the Congress-ruled central government. The issue was then debated in Parliament.
  • The Opposition was critical of the Governor’s conduct and moved a motion disapproving it. But the motion was ultimately defeated.

How have members responded to the addresses over the years?

  • The conduct of MLAs during the address has sometimes been an issue.
  • The Governor’s speech in state legislatures has routinely been interrupted.
  • In Parliament, the first instance of interruption of a President’s speech happened in 1963; President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was speaking when some MPs interrupted him.
  • The Lok Sabha took note of the incident and a reprimand was issued to the MPs.
  • Over the years, political parties have resolved to treat the President’s Address sacrosanct and agreed not to interrupt it.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Cabinet Committee on Investment and Growth (CCIG)

  • In an austerity move, the Union government has decided to reduce wasteful expenditure on items such as travel and food by 20 percent, it is learnt.
  • A decision of this effect was taken at a recent meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Investment and Growth (CCIG) chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
  • All ministries have been directed to reduce wasteful expenditure on travel, food and conferences by 20 percent.
  • Note: The CCIG was recently created in June 2019.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

250th session of Rajya Sabha

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : Significance of Rajya Sabha in Parliamentary procedures


  • The landmark 250th session of Rajya Sabha is commencing from today.
  • A glimpse of the content relating to the journey of Rajya Sabha during the last 67 years since it’s first sitting on 13.5.1952 is furnished below:

Some unique events relating to Rajya Sabha:

Members

  • Total members of Rajya Sabha so far including those with more than one term is 2,282 including 208 women and 137 nominated members.
  • Mahendra Prasad is serving the highest number of 7th term followed by Dr.Manmohan Singh serving 6th term.
  • Najma Heptulla and late Shri Ram Jethmalani are the other two with six terms each.
  • The representation of women in Rajya Sabha increased from 15 (6.94%) in 1952 increased to 31(12.76%) in 2014 and is now  26(10.83%) in 2019.

Casting vote by the Chair

  • The first and the only time when a Presiding Officer of Rajya Sabha cast his  vote was when the Panel Chairman Shri M.A.Baby did so on 5.8. 1991.
  • The voting was tied 39-39 on the Statutory Resolution moved by the opposition seeking disapproval of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Ordinance resulting in the victory of the opposition in the House.

President Rule approved only by Rajya Sabha

  • It happened only twice in respect of extension of President Rule in Tamil Nadu and Nagaland in 1977 and in case of Haryana in 1991 when Lok Sabha was dissolved.

Removal of a Judge

  • The only time Rajya Sabha adopted a motion for removal of a Judge was in respect of Justice Soumitra Sen of Calcutta High Court on 18.8.2011 but he resigned before the motion was taken up in Lok Sabha.

Expulsion of members

  • Rajya Sabha adopted a motion on 15.11.1976 for expulsion of Dr.Subramanian Swamy whose conduct and activities were found by a Committee to be derogatory to the dignity of the House and it’s members.
  • Chatrapal Singh was expelled on 23.11.2005 after Ethics Committee found him guilty of accepting money for asking questions.
  • Swami Sakhsi Ji Maharaj was expelled on 21.3.2006 for irregularities in recommending projects under MPLAD scheme.

Reprimand

  • Former Member of Rajya Sabha Shri K.K.Tiwari was summoned to the Bar of the House and was reprimanded on 1.6.1990 for a statement published in newspapers the same day that brought the office of Chairman and the House to indignity and contempt.

Bill passed by Rajya Sabha but negative by Lok Sabha

  • The Constitution (Sixty-fourth Amendment) Bill 1990 seeking to amend Article 356 relating to extension of President’s Rule in Punjab.

Bills passed by Lok Sabha but negatived by Rajya Sabha (5)

  • The Constitution (Twenty-fourth Amendment) Bill, 1970 seeking to terminate privy purses and privileges of former Indian States, The Banking Service Commission (Repeal) Bill, 1977, The Constitution (Sixty-fourth Amendment) Bill, 1989 seeking to insert a new Part IX in the constitution relating to Panchayats, The Constitution (Sixty-fifth Amendment) Bill, 1989 relating to Nagar Panchayats and Municipalities and The Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2002.

Bill reconsidered by Rajya Sabha

  • Rajya Sabha passed the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill on 17.5.2006 as earlier passed by Lok Sabha but the President referred the same for reconsideration on 30.5.2006.
  • Rajya Sabha reconsidered the same and passed as it was on 27.7.2006 and Lok Sabha passed it four later and was later assented to by the President on 18.8.2006.

Bills passed at the joint sittings of both the Houses of Parliament (3)

  • The Dowry Prohibition Bill, 1959 was first introduced in and passed by Lok Sabha. Rajya Sabha later insisted on some amendments to which Lok Sabha did not agree. The Bill was passed on 9.5.1961 at a joint sitting.
  • The Banking Service Commission (Repeal) Bill, 1978 first introduced in and passed by Lok Sabha was later rejected by Rajya Sabha. It was passed on 16.5.2018 at a joint sitting.
  • The Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2002 passed by Lok Sabha was negatived by Rajya Sabha and was later passed at a joint sitting on 26.3.2002.

Some firsts relating to Rajya Sabha

  • First sitting of the House was held on 13.5.1952
  • First Bill passed : The Indian Tariff (Second Amendment) Bill, 1952
  • First Bill concerning social change: The Special Marriages Bill, 1952
  • First Constitution Amendment Bill passed by Rajya Sabha: The Constitution (Second Amendment) Bill, 1953 for readjustment of representation in Lok Sabha by increasing the size of population per constituency.
  • First Bill on Law and Order: The Preventive Detention (Second Amendment) Bill, 1952
  • First Bill on imports: The Live-stock Importation (Amendment) Bill, 1953
  • First media related Bill: The Press (Objectionable Matters) Amendment Bill, 1953
  • First on reorganization of States: The Andhra State Bill, 1953
  • First Bill on health education: The All India Institute of Medical Sciences Bill, 1955
  • First on urban development : The Faridabad Development Corporation Bill, 1955
  • First on agriculture: The Agriculture Produce (Development and Warehousing Corporations) Bill, 1956
  • First Bill on all-India services: The All India Services (Amendment) Bill, 1958
  • First security related Bill: The Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Bill, 1958
  • First relating to animals: The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Bill, 1959
  • First on corporate take over: The Jayanti Shipping Company (Taking Over of Management) Bill, 1966
  • First on pollution: The Prevention of Water Pollution Bill, 1969
  • First nationalization Bill: The Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Bill, 1970
  • First against economic offences: The Economic Offences (Incapability of Limitation) Bill, 1974
  • First Money Bill deemed to have been passed by Rajya Sabha: The Appropriation (Railways) No.4 Bill, 1978
  • First Bill referring to terrorism: The Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) Bill, 1984

Bills passed by Lok Sabha and amended by Rajya Sabha

The 120 such  Bills include; The Companies Bill, 1953, The UGC Bill, 1954, The Constitution (Forty-fourth Amendment) Bill, 1978, The Chit Funds Bill, 1982, The Prevention of Corruption Bill, 1988, The Prevention of Money Laundering Bill, 2002, The Special Economic Zones Bill, 2005, The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Bill, 2013, The Lok Pal and Lok Ayuktas Bill, 2016, The National Medical Council Bill, 2019 and The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Speaker of the Lok Sabha

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Speaker of the Lok Sabha

Mains level : Terms of reference for Speaker

  • Om Birla, a Member of Parliament from Rajasthan, was elected Speaker of the 17th Lok Sabha.

Speaker of the Lok Sabha

  • The Speaker of the Lok Sabha is the presiding officer of the Lok Sabha (House of the People), the lower house of the Parliament of India.
  • The speaker is elected generally in the very first meeting of the Lok Sabha following general elections.
  • Serving for a term of five years, the speaker chosen from sitting members of the Lok Sabha (House of the People), and is by convention a member of the ruling party or alliance.

Election

  • Newly elected MPs from the Lok Sabha elect the Speaker among themselves.
  • It is desired Speaker should be someone who understands Lok Sabha functions and it is someone accepted among the ruling and opposition parties.
  • MP’s propose a name to Pro tem speaker. These names are notified to President of India. President through their aid Secretary- General notifies the election date. If only one name is proposed, Speaker is elected without any formal vote.
  • However, if more than 1 nomination are received, a division (vote) is called.
  • MPs vote for their candidate on such date notified by President. Successful candidate is elected as Speaker of the Lok Sabha until next general election

Powers and Functions

  • The Speaker of the Lok Sabha conducts the business in house; and decides whether a bill is a money bill or not.
  • She/he maintains discipline and decorum in the house and can punish a member for their unruly behaviour by suspending them.
  • She/he also permit the moving of various kinds of motions and resolutions such as a motion of no confidence, motion of adjournment, motion of censure and calling attention notice as per the rules.
  • The Speaker decides on the agenda to be taken up for discussion during the meeting.
  • Further, all comments and speeches made by members of the House are addressed to the Speaker.
  • The Speaker also presides over the joint sitting of both houses of the Parliament of India.

Removal from office

  • Speaker can be removed by the Lok Sabha by a resolution passed by an effective majority (>50% of total strength excluding vacancies) of the house as per Articles 94 (vacation) and 96 (resolution for removal).
  • Speaker is also removed on getting disqualified for being Lok Sabha member under sections 7 and 8 of Representation of the People Act, 1951.
  • This would arise out of speaker’s wrong certification of a bill as money bill inconsistent with the definition given in Articles 110 of the constitution.
  • When courts uphold the unconstitutional act of the speaker for wrong certification of a bill as money bill, it amounts to disrespecting the constitution deserving conviction under Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971.
  • It is applicable for disqualification of speaker’s Lok Sabha membership under section 8K of Representation of the People Act, 1951.
  • However the omissions in the procedure committed by the speaker in the Lok Sabha can not be challenged in court of law per Article 122.

 


Also read:

 

Chairman of Rajya Sabha

  • The counterpart of the Speaker in the Rajya Sabha (Council of the States) is its Chairperson; the Vice President of India is the ex-officio chairperson of the Rajya Sabha.
  • On the order of precedence, the Speaker of Lok Sabha ranks sixth, along with the Chief Justice of India. The Speaker is answerable to the House.
  • Both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker may be removed by a resolution passed by the majority of the members.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Explained: Appointment of the Pro-tem Speaker

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Protem Speaker, Leader of the Rajya Sabha

Mains level : Appointment and Functions of the Protem Speaker

  • A MP from Madhya Pradesh Virendra Kumar will be the Pro-tem Speaker of the Lok Sabha.

Pro-tem Speaker

  • Pro-tem is a Latin phrase which translates to for the time being in English and so the Pro-tem Speaker is a temporary speaker appointed for a limited period of time.
  • Pro-tem speaker is chosen for the conduct of the house when the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies have been elected and the vote for the speaker and deputy speaker has not taken place.
  • The Pro-tem Speaker presides over the first sitting of the Lok Sabha, administer the oath of office to the newly elected MPs, and oversee the election of the Speaker.
  • Once the new Speaker is elected, the office of the pro tem speaker ceases to exist. He also administers the floor test.

Her/his Appointment

  • After a general election and the formation of a new government, a list of senior Lok Sabha members prepared by the Legislative Section is submitted to the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, who selects a pro tem speaker.
  • The appointment has to be approved by the President.
  • The first meeting after the election when the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker are selected by members of the Parliament is held under the pro tem Speaker.

Must Read:

Leader of Rajya Sabha

  • Besides the Chairman (Vice-President of India) and the Deputy Chairman, there is also a position called Leader of the House.
  • This is a cabinet minister – the Prime Minister if he is a member of the House, or another nominated Minister.
  • The Leader has a seat next to the Chairman, in the front row.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Leader of Opposition

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : LoP and its appointment

Mains level : Importance of LoP

  • A national political party has stated that it will not stake claim for the position of Leader of Opposition in Parliament since it is short of the necessary numbers to be eligible for the position.
  • The second largest party in the house after the majority only has 52 members which is three short of the necessary figure.

Leader of Opposition

  • The LOP is leader of the largest party that has not less than one-tenth of the total strength of the house.
  • It is a statutory post defined in the Salaries and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977.
  • The Act says that LoP is the Leader in that House of the party in opposition to the Government having the greatest numerical strength and recognised as such by the Chairman/Speaker of the House.
  • In Lok Sabha, total strength is 545 members so any party that has 55 members can get the post as recognised as such by the speaker/chairman.

Importance of LoP: The shadow PM

  • The Westminster model that India follows the opposition is a recognizable entity and the LoP is referred to as the ‘shadow Prime Minister’.
  • She/he is expected to be ready to take over if the government falls.
  • The LoP also plays an important role in bringing cohesiveness and effectiveness to the opposition’s functioning in policy and legislative work.

Selection Procedure

  • The procedure for recognising the leader of the opposition is well laid down.
  • On a request being made by the numerically largest party in the opposition, its designated leader be recognised as the leader of the opposition.
  • After the request is examined by her or his secretariat, the speaker/chairman accords recognition to that person.

Legal position of 10% Formulation

  • The point to note here is that the statute gives the numerically largest party in the opposition the right to have a leader recognised as leader of the opposition by the speaker.
  • Former Deputy Chairman of RS P.J. Kurien pointed that legally the party is entitled to the position.
  • The 10% formulation is inconsistent with the law ‘the salary and allowances of leaders of opposition in Parliament Act, 1977’ which only says that the largest opposition party should get the post.
  • The “10%” rule was in fact brought in 1985 by the then LS Speaker Balram Jakhar to deny the position to a party from then Andhra Pradesh.

Way Forward

  • No matter whosoever gets the majority, the LoP is critical to effective functioning of the opposition in the Parliament.
  • Now that there is a law recognising the LoP, passed by the Parliament, it has to be enforced and
  • LoP plays a crucial role in bringing bipartisanship and neutrality to the appointments in institutions of accountability and transparency – CVC, CBI, CIC, Lokpal etc.
  • It can’t be overlooked or undermined, no matter what the flexibility or ambiguity that exist in the legal framework.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

[op-ed snap] Trickeries of the money bill

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Money Bill, Financial Bill

Mains level : Spirit of constitution should be maintained in money and financial Bill.

CONTEXT

The Supreme Court has now heard oral arguments in Revenue Bar Association (RBA) v. Union of India, in which the validity of the Finance Act of 2017, insofar as it affects the structure and functioning of various judicial tribunals, is under challenge.

Background

  • Ordinarily, the Finance Act, which is enacted at the beginning of every accounting year, seeks to give effect to the government’s fiscal policies.
  • In 2017, however, the state wielded the statute like a blunderbuss.
  • It not only set the fiscal agenda for the year ahead but it also toppled the existing regime governing the working of 26 different judicial bodies.
  • Until recently, each of these panels was governed by a separate statute, and those laws individually contained a set of principles providing for, among other things, the criteria employed to select and remove members to and from these bodies, and for salaries, allowances and other such service conditions of the members.

Concerns

  • The petitioners argued that this move runs sharply athwart judicial independence. The new law, in their belief, deputed to the executive what was really an essential legislative function.
  • Many of these tribunals, which included the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, and the Industrial Disputes Tribunal, they pointed out, performed roles that were originally undertaken by the higher judiciary.
  • To assign to the executive’s whims the task of establishing the criteria employed in selecting members to the panels and to provide for the members’ service conditions was, therefore, pernicious to the basic principle of separation of powers.
  • Despite the Supreme Court’s previous ruling that the chairperson of a judicial tribunal ought to be equivalent to the Chief Justice of the high courts, as a result of the rules now made in furtherance of the Finance Act, in 13 different tribunals, a person who is merely qualified to be appointed as a judge of a high court can be selected as the presiding officer.

Need for reforms

  • In B.R. Ambedkar’s vision, the Constitution embodied not only a charter of rights but also a foundation for republican governance. His worries that democracy in India was “only a top-dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic”, saw him lay stress on a need to diffuse constitutional morality among India’s citizens.

Loopholes

  • One such clause, Article 110(1), grants to the Lok Sabha Speaker the authority to certify a draft law as a money bill so long as such legislation deals only with all or any of the matters specifically listed in the provision.
  • These include subjects such as the imposition or abolition of a tax, the declaring of any expenditure to be expenditure charged on the Consolidated Fund of India, and, significantly, also any matter otherwise incidental to the subjects specified in Article 110.
  • The ensuing clause clarifies that a draft law will not be a money bill for the reason that it also provides for the imposition or abolition of a tax.
  • In other words, substantive laws, which are not merely incidental to the subjects enlisted in Article 110(1) cannot be finagled into a bill that also happens to contain taxing rules. It is precisely such trickery that the petitioners contended the Finance Act of 2017 indulges in.
  • The Union government, for its part, argued that the Speaker of the Lok Sabha was not only correct in making the classification, but that, in any event, her decision was beyond judicial review.
  • To this end, the government relied on Article 110(3), which states that in cases where a dispute arises over whether a bill is a money bill or not, the Speaker’s decision shall be considered final.
  • But, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly held, the finality accorded to the Speaker’s decision does not altogether oust the court’s jurisdiction.
  • Ultimately, the Speaker derives her power from the Constitution. In classifying a draft law as a money bill, therefore, her decision has to be demonstrably justifiable.
  • An immunity from judicial scrutiny would effectively allow the government to elude the Rajya Sabha’s constitutional checks by simply having the Speaker classify a draft law as a money bill regardless of whether it, in fact, meets the conditions stipulated in Article 110(1) or not.

Way Forward

  • The idea behind a money bill is derived from British parliamentary custom.
  • But unlike in Britain, where judicial review of the Speaker’s opinion is unambiguously prohibited, in India, Article 110 avoids creating any such bar.
  • Money bills exist simply to ensure that the Rajya Sabha isn’t allowed to bring down a government by refusing it access to the exchequer for everyday governance.
  • To use it as a means to nullify the Upper House’s democratic role in making substantive legislation denigrates the Constitution’s form which Ambedkar and the Constituent Assembly considered inviolate.
  • The Supreme Court has already squandered at least two opportunities in recent times to provide a sense of sanctity to the Constitution’s carefully structured arrangements.
  • The dispute over the Finance Act of 2017, therefore, assumes particular significance.
  • In deciding the case, the court will do well to pay heed to Ambedkar’s warnings, by recognising that the niceties of constitutional form are not a matter of trifles.
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