Anybody in the House?

Participation rates of MPs in Parliament have been a cause for concern for some time now. The frequency with which members rush to the well of the House appears to have increased in recent years. This is despite the fact that parliamentary procedures offer a number of ways in which MPs can raise and discuss issues.

Individual MPs from both the ruling and opposition parties can raise questions during Question Hour. They can also highlight issues related to their constituencies and matters of urgent public importance through various rules of the House. Introducing private members' bills happens through individual initiative.

Parliament debates bills and important non-legislative issues. For most debates, the party decides who would represent its view on the floor. An important function of an MP is to debate major issues so that differing perspectives are brought out in the process of formulating policy.

Now consider the attendance data of MPs from Lok Sabha in the Budget Session 2007. While the overall average attendance rate in Lok Sabha was 21 days in the 32-day session, the younger MPs (49 years or less) had an average attendance of 19 days. Members between ages 50-65 years and the seniors (age 66 years and above) had a better attendance record and averaged 21 days each. A similar study published in this newspaper a year ago also revealed that younger MPs have the lowest attendance record.

While attendance is an important indicator, it is instructive to look at the participation rates of MPs in legislative and non-legislative debates in Parliament. In all of 2006, 25 per cent of MPs did not participate in any debate. Out of the 75 per cent who participated, half spoke less than three times in Parliament in 2006 not even an average of speaking once a session.

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