FROM THE EDI­TOR-IN-CHIEF

India Today - - NEWS -

Par­lia­ment is sup­posed to be the na­tion’s cru­cible for the high­est form of de­bate, the high­est stan­dard of deco­rum, and the high­est level of earnest­ness. Lan­guage and be­hav­iour that fall be­low its ex­alted norms are, there­fore, de­scribed as “un­par­lia­men­tary”. Watch­ing the pro­ceed­ings in both Houses of Par­lia­ment over the last week is a grim re­minder of how far this in­sti­tu­tion has fallen. Words of wis­dom have given way to pep­per sprays and mi­cro­phones are be­ing wielded as weapons. Dis­cus­sions that shaped a na­tion have been re­placed by push­ing, shov­ing and slap­ping. All this de­spite live cov­er­age on tele­vi­sion, which should have acted as a de­ter­rent against row­di­ness.

In 1957, ten years af­ter In­de­pen­dence, Prime Min­is­ter Jawa­har­lal Nehru had spo­ken in Lok Sabha high­light­ing what a par­lia­men­tary democ­racy had given In­dia, and what it would take to main­tain its stan­dards. “Par­lia­men­tary democ­racy de­mands many virtues. It de­mands, of course, abil­ity. It de­mands a cer­tain de­vo­tion to work. But it also de­mands a large mea­sure of co­op­er­a­tion, of self-dis­ci­pline, of re­straint…,” he had said. “I think it may be said with­out any par­tial­ity that it has func­tioned with a very large mea­sure of suc­cess in this coun­try. Why? Not so much be­cause we, the Mem­bers of this House, are ex­em­plars of wis­dom, but, I think, be­cause of the back­ground in our coun­try and be­cause our people have the spirit of democ­racy in them.”

For many years af­ter In­de­pen­dence, Par­lia­ment up­held these val­ues. There was dis­cus­sion and there were dif­fer­ences of opin­ion. Leg­is­la­tors got an­gry and walked off in a huff. But its core val­ues re­mained in­tact un­til its grad­ual cor­ro­sion started to hol­low out the in­sti­tu­tion, es­pe­cially over the last two decades. What has hap­pened in the last few days is not an aber­ra­tion; it is an ex­treme ex­am­ple of how our par­lia­men­tary pro­cesses have been eroded both in ac­tion and in­tent.

In this week’s cover story, writ­ten by Prin­ci­pal Cor­re­spon­dent Jayant Sri­ram and As­so­ciate Edi­tor Kaushik Deka, we show how the con­sis­tent abra­sion of core val­ues has brought us to the worst Lok Sabha in our his­tory—one that has done the least work while spend­ing the most money. If the first Lok Sabha gave In­dia the prom­ise of a brighter to­mor­row and the 10th be­tween 1991 and 1996 opened our doors to the world by lib­er­al­is­ing the econ­omy, the 15th Lok Sabha will be re­mem­bered for wastage and a lack of ci­vil­ity. Data from PRS Leg­isla­tive Re­search proves con­clu­sively that this is true across pa­ram­e­ters. This is the worst Lok Sabha in terms of pro­duc­tiv­ity, with only 63 per cent of its al­lot­ted time used for the busi­ness of the House. It is the worst in terms of leg­is­la­tion, with only 13 per cent of its to­tal time spent in law­mak­ing. And it is the worst in terms of pend­ing bills, with a stag­ger­ing 74 still wait­ing to be passed.

This lack of pro­duc­tiv­ity is cou­pled with the ris­ing cost of Par­lia­ment. In ad­di­tion to the Rs 10,000 crore that was spent on elect­ing its 543 mem­bers, and the Rs 245 crore an­nu­ally to­wards salaries due to a hike Par­lia­ment gave it­self in 2010, an es­ti­mated Rs 2.5 lakh is spent ev­ery minute to run a Par­lia­ment ses­sion. This is a small price to pay for a large democ­racy like ours if it func­tions as it should but un­con­scionable to pay for a mock­ery of democ­racy.

Im­por­tant leg­is­la­tions which will se­ri­ously af­fect our lives are not de­bated and just ca­su­ally passed. On the other hand, there is a slew of bills which can change our lives for the bet­ter but are not passed be­cause the par­ties are too busy dis­rupt­ing the House for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons. The po­lit­i­cal class needs to do some se­ri­ous in­tro­spec­tion to cor­rect it­self. As it is, there is very lit­tle re­spect left for politi­cians by the gen­eral pop­u­lace and no democ­racy can sur­vive if that re­mains the case.

OUR SEPTEM­BER 2011 COVER

(Aroon Purie)

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