Who’s the boss?

In the two sessions of the 15th Lok Sabha so far, Parliament has asserted its authority over the executive on a few occasions. In the July-August budget session, Rajya Sabha MPs forced the law minister to withdraw the motion to introduce a bill that had weak provisions for declaration of assets by judges. Later, Lok Sabha MPs refused to permit a discussion on the rubber amendment bill in the absence of the relevant minister; they also insisted that a bill on the Delhi Metro not be passed without discussion. Significantly, some Congress MPs joined hands with the opposition on these occasions. In the recently concluded winter session, Rajya Sabha did not allow the lotteries prohibition bill to be withdrawn without the introduction of a replacement bill. Also Rajya Sabha formed a select committee to examine a bill that Lok Sabha passed without discussion.

These actions, however, are few and far apart. The Constitution requires that the government be responsible to the legislature. This implies that Parliament has the duty to oversee the functioning of the government and hold it accountable for its work. However, in practice, Parliament has often been unable to fulfil this responsibility. Here are a few instances to illustrate the different ways in which the government escapes parliamentary scrutiny.

Parliament met for just 46 days in 2008, the lowest ever for a calendar year. MPs do not have the power to convene Parliament unless the government concurs. Parliament sessions are called by the president on the advice of the prime minister; the only requirement is that there should not be a gap of more than six months between two sessions. An attempt was recently made to wrest back control: Mahendra Mohan of Rajya Sabha introduced a bill that proposed a minimum of 120 working days for Parliament and 60 for state legislatures. The minister for parliamentary affairs said it would not be practical to implement the bill, and on his request the bill was withdrawn.

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