Ring in the new

In recent years, most sessions of Parliament have ended with the Speaker lamenting the deterioration of standards in the House. And repeatedly, the press has highlighted the decline in the engagement levels of MPs in the House MPs not present in the House when important bills are passed, MPs missing Question Hour, several important bills being passed without any debate, and so on. Despite this, the MPs and Parliament appear to be doing precious little to change things.

At an individual level, many MPs decry the falling standards in Parliament. The chairman of the Rajya Sabha has initiated a number of steps in recent months that gently nudge the House towards better discourse on issues. The Parliament secretariat continues its excellent work in making more of the work of Parliament available in the public domain. Committees of Parliament have looked at ethics and privileges issues from time to time and some MPs have been expelled from Parliament. But despite all this, by most accounts, our Parliament as an institution of governance has failed to live up to the expectations of a nation of a billion people.

Over the next decade, there are three broad areas where I think we will see some change for the better.

The first area is the performance of Parliament as an institution. When we complain about the engagement levels of MPs and sometimes their behaviour in the House, we often do not take a comprehensive look at the incentives and structural issues that appear to hamper the performance of Parliament. In an average session of Parliament about 1,400 documents are tabled on the floor of Parliament. Ostensibly, the purpose of tabling documents is for MPs to scrutinise them and raise any issues related to matters discussed in these documents. To perform this duty, how many qualified research staff do our MPs have zero. When bills are passed in Parliament, because of the party whip system and the tight party discipline, there is no room for an MP to vote his conscience on any piece of legislation. And to add to this, Bills are passed by voice vote, and therefore no one ever knows whether an MP was present in the House even when very important bills are passed.

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