The South Asian Times

22 October 2018 02:27 AM

Parliament Turns 60, MPs Urged To Introspect

New Delhi : The Indian parliament Sunday celebrated 60 years of its existence with leaders, mainly from the ruling Congress, calling for an end to frequent disruptions and the need for parliamentarians to introspect over their behaviour.

Both houses of parliament held day-long special sittings with party leaders recalling India's freedom struggle and the nation becoming the largest democracy in the world. But there were words of self-criticism as well.

Members of both houses met together in the central hall in the evening when President Pratibha Patil presented mementoes to 92-year-old Rishang Keshing, a Rajya Sabha member from Manipur, who was a member of the the first Lok Sabha.

Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar were among those who attended the meeting.

During the debates in the two houses, speakers from both sides of the political divide stressed that the supremacy of the Indian parliament must be preserved as Manmohan Singh flagged concerns in his speech over "the routine of disruptions" and members' "unwillingness" to discuss key issues in the forum of parliament.

"The daily routine of disruptions, adjournments and shouting in the house are leading many to question the efficacy of this institution," Manmohan Singh said, addressing the Lok Sabha.

He urged MPs to think over their conduct "as we look ahead, this occasion should also become the moment for some candid and serious introspection".

"The manner in which we have conducted our affairs…has created a sense of frustration and disillusionment among the people," the prime minister stressed, referring to the frequent opposition protests that have blocked many key legislations and also led to hundreds of business hours being wasted.

The prime minister's concerns may not be off the mark given how noisy protests stalling parliament business have increased in the last years with the winter session in 2010 getting washed out entirely.

Figures reveal how the number of sittings has also gone down over the years.

Sample this. The Lok Sabha sat for an average 127 days and the Rajya Sabha for 93 days in the 1950s, according to PRS Legislative Research, an independent think tank.

And in 2011, the number of days of sittings for the both houses was 73 days.

The first Lok Sabha in the 1950s passed an average of 72 bills each year but the 15th Lok Sabha has only passed an average of 40 bills a year.

Parliament passed the highest number of bills - 118 - in 1976 when the nation was under the Emergency. The lowest number of bills - 18 - were passed in 2004.

Perhaps with these statistics in mind and his own 21 years of experience as a lawmaker, Manmohan Singh appealed to members to "write a new chapter and restore to it the sense of dignity and decorum that is expected of" parliament.

He said MPs should "reflect with concern on the repeated disruptions of proceedings and a regrettable unwillingness, on occasion, to engage in informed discussion".

"Therefore," the prime minister said, it was "incumbent upon all of us to respect the great institutions of our democracy and respect the spirit of what is expected from the elected representatives".

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is also the leader of the Lok Sabha, also lamented that a handful of members was strangling the "silent majority".

"On many occasions, this house has been tumultuous, tempers ran high, but disruptions were the least this house has adopted. Because when we disrupt the house then it serves no purpose. We cannot hear. We cannot speak."

Congress president Sonia Gandhi who rarely speaks in the house said people outside the country had apprehensions about the success of democracy of the country. "Our conduct must be according to the standards of the founding fathers," she said.

However, there were moments of sharing pride on India's democracy that has made the country an example in the world despite problems like poverty and terrorism.

Parliamentarians spoke of India's unflinching commitment to democracy.

Participating in the debate, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley hailed India's growth to the stature of the largest democracy.

"Social justice, elimination of poverty, healthcare, women's empowerment, these are all greater challenges in the decades to come," Jaitley said.

At the end of the daylong sitting MPs resolved to uphold parliament's "dignity, sanctity and supremacy" to make it an effective instrument of change.

In a unanimously adopted resolution in the both houses, they also vowed to enhance the government's accountability through parliament's oversight mechanism and rededicate themselves "completely to the sacred task of nation building".


Update: 15 May, 2012