A parliament in limbo

India parliament The ongoing session has been deadlocked

The economy is crawling and inflation is nudging close to double digits. Food prices are going up. Key legislation which could help crack down on corruption needs to be tackled. The demand for a new state of Telangana hangs fire.

Yet the parliament of the world's largest democracy remains in limbo.

With the opposition protesting against retail reforms and forcing adjournments every day, the winter session that began on 22 November has failed to launch. There are 31 bills to be considered and passed, including the key anti-corruption bill.

At this rate, one wonders whether any of this will happen and whether parliament will simply shut down prematurely this winter.

At its current pace, this 15th session of the parliament - which began in 2009 - may be the "most disrupted in 25 years", according to respected watchdog PRS Legislative Research.

Parliament overall has sat for only 72% of its allotted 800 hours. Only 57 of 200 bills planned have been passed so far. Some 17% of the bills passed until the end of the monsoon session this year were debated for less than five minutes. Running parliament, according to one estimate, costs 2.5 million rupees ($49,000) in taxpayer's money every hour. Imagine the losses.

It's a sad reflection on a bicameral parliament that has a reputation for being one of the most vibrant in the world.

It has produced a stupendous amount of legislation - the first 12 parliaments passed nearly 2,500 bills. More than 100,000 questions - in oral and written form - were allowed during the 11th parliament alone, up from less than 50,000 in the first.

But all that seems to be history now. Many are asking how India can be called the world's largest democracy when its parliament, the highest representative body of a billion people, appears to be so dysfunctional.

Critics like lawyer Rajeev Dhavan believe that "it is a disservice to democratic governance to bring parliament to a grinding halt, paralyse its working and hold it to ransom unless demands, however justified, are met".

But a small number of people also believe that, far from being undemocratic, disruptions actually foster democratic values and representation.

Disruption of parliament is not new. Writing in 2006, well-known writer and commentator Khushwant Singh almost predicted its demise. "The more I see of the way our two houses of parliament conduct their 'business', the more I feel that our parliamentary system of governance is on the verge of collapsing," he wrote.

That may not happen soon, but when nothing gets done in the nation's highest body for so long a time, the credibility of the institution itself is hurt. At a time when public faith in most institutions is at an all time low, this is seriously bad news.

Soutik Biswas, Delhi correspondent Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Before any bill is discussed in the parliament politicians mainly the ruling party politicians should talk about it in the media in what direction the government is heading to. This will allow opposition parties and the ruling parties to explain why they think it’s right or wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The decision on the FDI came as a surprise to everyone and it shouldn’t be like this, politicians should speak up well before a final decision has been made by the goverment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Our politicians blame Anna Hazare for "trying to bypass" parliament when team Anna wants an effective Lokepal bill. These "democratically elected" politicians hardly can run the parliament, hardly capable to debate & decide on any issue. Majority of them are not educated & civilized enough to sit in the parliament in the 1st place, leave alone participating in a law making process for the country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    It seems that Indian political system is collapsing. Hardly anyone trust it, even fellow politicians. Politicians are killing the golden goose which lays golden eggs (obviously for them, at least).
    Democracy, worldwide, is facing severe challenges to prove its merit in this era of higher connectivity, demand for transparency & "fairness". Is it time to search for alternative OR systemic reform?

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    A political system WITHOUT actual leaders is bound to fail. Promoted leaders can not herd the flock of unruly sheep. These fake leaders have to use fundamentalist type "fatwa" (party whip/ruling) to impose/promote its authority. Almost none (barring BJP & communists to some extent) of Indian political parties follow any system to promote real leaders. Dynastic politics will fail in 21st century.


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