FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
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 Discussions that shaped a nation have been replaced by pushing, shoving and slapping.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