New Delhi: If a proposed legislation eventually sees light of the day, then Parliament will meet for a minimum of 100 days every year, something that has not happened in the Lok Sabha for the last 21 years and in the Rajya Sabha for 35 years.
Interestingly, the proposal, first moved in the Rajya Sabha in December was a private member’s Bill and not tabled by the government. A private member Bill is one that is introduced by an individual member rather than the government and a Bill introduced in the Rajya Sabha survives the government since it is a perennial House.
Though a discussion—the second since 3 July—on the proposal remained inconclusive, all the leading political parties have lined up behind the proposal made by Mahendra Mohan, a Samajwadi Party member of Parliament (MP) in the Rajya Sabha. Since the proposed Bill seeks to make constitutional amendments—to Articles 85 and 174 of the Constitution—it will require a two-thirds majority.
Mohan said the Bill was necessary for the “healthy functioning” of the democracy as year after year the number of days of Parliament were on the decline.
According to data compiled by PRS Legislative Research, a Delhi-based research unit, the last time the Lok Sabha met for even 100 days in a year was nearly two decades back in 1988, when it met for 102 days. The Rajya Sabha’s record is even less impressive. It met for 109 days in 1974, the last time it touched the 100-sitting figure. In 2008, the last year of the 14th Lok Sabha, both Houses of Parliament met for just 46 days each—the lowest ever.
“I am happy that members rising above party lines have supported this Constitution (amendment) Bill introduced by me. Members of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Communist Party of India (Marxist), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, apart from the ruling Congress and all other parties have pledged support for the Bill, which will make 120 days sitting mandatory for Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha and 60 days of sitting mandatory for the state legislatures,” Mohan said.
The main Opposition party in the Rajya Sabha, the BJP, pledged its support to the Bill if it was put to vote. “Majority of the Parliament time is consumed for government business. We need more time to discuss issues concerning the masses and our constituencies. We are in total support of the Bill,” said S.S. Ahluwalia, deputy leader of the BJP in the Rajya Sabha.
Taking part in the discussion on the Bill in the Rajya Sabha on Friday, Congress member E.M. Sudarsana Natchiappan favoured a government Bill in place of the private member to make a constitutional amendment.
“I am not averse to a government Bill, but I will press for a vote on the Bill if government fails to give clear assurance in the next session when the discussion is resumed. I am sure the Bill will be passed with almost all members supporting it,” said Mohan.
From 1952 till 2008, the Lok Sabha has met for 100 or more sittings a year only 28 times, while the corresponding figure for the Rajya Sabha is just 11 times. The Lok Sabha kept a consistent record of over 100 days sitting a year for 12 years from 1952 to 1974, and the highest number of sittings in a year was 151 in 1956, while for the Rajya Sabha it was 113 in the same year.
According to PRS, the number of sittings in the Rajya Sabha has come down from an annual average of 90.5 in the first decade 1952-61 to 71.3 in the decade 1992-2001, declining by one-fifth. The comparative figures for the Lok Sabha are 124.2 and 81, a decline by one-third.
Meanwhile, the record of state assemblies is worse, with the average at 20-50 sittings every year.
Some state assemblies have provisions that specify the number of sittings the assembly would have in a year. These provisions could either be binding or non-binding in nature. For instance, Uttar Pradesh has a no-binding provision for an assembly sitting of 90 days while Orissa has a binding provision of 60 days.
Till date, 14 private member Bill have been passed in Parliament and the last one was in 1970, according to PRS Legislative Research. Another private member Bill, introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2002, on the subject of sitting of state assemblies is still pending.
Analysts say apart from fixing minimum days, Parliament should also have the right to convene on its own for its effective functioning.
“It is good that MPs are thinking about meeting for a minimum number of days every year. The dates of Parliament are effectively decided by the government of the day. This is ironic considering that the Constitution views Parliament as the body overseeing the work of the government. For the oversight function to work well, Parliament should have the authority to convene even if that is not convenient for the government,” said M.R. Madhavan, head of research at PRS Legislative Research.