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'JPC probe needed on functioning of Parliament'

December 13, 2010 19:34 IST
The Parliament conducted almost nil business during its Winter Session with constant disruptions by the Opposition over the 2G spectrum scam. The session was virtually washed out, after the government refused to concede to the demand of the Opposition for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into the allegations.    

In this exclusive interview with parliamentery expert C V Madhukar, founder and director of PRS Legislative Research, he tells rediff.com's Sahim Salim that there is a need for a JPC to look into the smooth functioning of the Parliament, if for nothing else.

Because of the frequent disruptions, the Parliament has lost many working hours. There is a mechanism in place to make up for this loss. Can you explain in detail about this procedure?

The scheduled time for the Lok Sabha is to meet for six hours a day, while the Rajya Sabha meets for five hours. In the last several sessions of the Parliament, when you observe the trend, these disruptions happen in the first few days of the session and much time is lost.

But what they end up doing towards the last half of the Parliament session is to make up for the loss of hours. That is to say, they will meet for extra hours over and above the prescribed hours.

In these extra hours, they will try and complete unfinished business. What the media reports typically is the loss of hours, but they don't account for the extra hours put in to make up for the lost time. It is not very clear whether the Parliament actually succeeded in making up for the loss of time or not.

In an ideal situation, we should not lose time and our Members of Parliament should work longer. But if that does not happen, at least the effort should be made to make up for the lost time.

But we have not seen this procedure happen in the current session of the Parliament, isn't it?

Correct. Monday is the last day of the Parliament session. In this session, our MPs have not been able to conduct any business whatsoever. And certainly, this is one of the worst Parliament sessions in terms of productive hours in the last 25 years.

You have analysed and researched data from the Parliamentary sessions of the last 25 years. Can you share the details of your findings?

If you take the number of hours the Parliament sits, like if we say the Lok Sabha sits for six hours a day, so for a 20 days session, we have 120 hours of sittings.

If the Parliament sits for 10 hours, the productive session is 1/12th is the total hours, that is roughly about eight hours. We have analysed this time's session and the productive hours are less than six percent.

If we look at the historical records since 1985, this session is the worst when it comes to productive hours. This despite the fact that the Parliament has seen issues like the Bofors case, Tehelka expose, the Babri Masjid demolition, the Bombay riots, etc. Inspite of all these high profile happenings, the productive hours at the Parliament were more than what it is in the current session.

With such low productivity, how can we see discussions and passing of draft bills in the Parliament? According to your data, we have had six percent productivity, so can we see worthwhile policy changes?

Clearly in the current Parliament session, almost no policy business was transacted. And so, everything that was supposed to be transacted will be pushed to atleast the Budget session, if not later.

That is the policy cost that we all have to go through because the Parliament is not functioning. What I think should happen is Parliament should sit together, introspect and find ways of making Parliament more productive; both in terms of the number of hours they sit and the quality of the business they transact in the House.

In my view, there definitely should be a Joint Parliamentary Committee to examine the functioning of the House, if nothing else. How do you strengthen the House, how do you make it function properly? These questions should be addressed by the JPC.

This time the Parliament deadlock happened because of the alleged irregularities in the 2G spectrum allocations. What other reasons have we seen over the past for such disruptions?

Disruptions happen for a number of reasons. For example, when the member of opposition found that the government was not doing enough to contain the price rise in the country, there were numerous disruptions.

During the Indo-US nuclear deal, there were a lot of disruptions. A lot of issues, which deserves national attention, cause these disruptions in the Parliament.

Some MPs feel the need to disrupt the Parliament to make their point. The idea of disruption is to force the government to concede a certain thing that the opposition wants explained which the government holds onto. For example, the current situation.

What can be done to prevent such deadlocks in the future?

Cleary there are rules in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The Speaker has been bestowed with enormous power to bring in discipline in the House.

One thing that we need to examine is why the Speaker, despite all his/her powers, does not act on those MPs who don't behave in the House.

Secondly, the Opposition demands explanations for various issues at various points in time appear legitimate. What is the mechanism that Parliament can have to allow some of these discussions to take place in the House? I am not saying that the government should concede to everything that the Opposition asks, but there should be some civil way of resolving such differences of opinion. It should not stall the proceedings of the Parliament.

This time the Parliament deadlock happened largely because of the 2G allocation scam. The opposition wanted a JPC, while the government would not concede to the demand. Do you think that the government should just initiate a JPC so that other businesses can be taken care of?

The Opposition feels justified in asking for the JPC and the government feels justified in not granting it. If you just purely go by the rules of what the Public Accounts Committee can do, what the Standing Committee on Information Technology can do, what a JPC can do, there are some differences.

For example in the PAC, you cannot summon a minister, because the Speaker's directions indicate so. But there is nothing that prevents a minister to decide to go and present himself or herself in front of a PAC.

Similarly he or she can also go and present his or her side in front of a Standing Committee. Now as far as the JPC itself is concerned, there is nothing in the rule book of the Parliament that speaks of a JPC.

There is a Joint Committee of Parliament. As it turns out the PAC is a Joint Committee of the Parliament. All Standing Committees are Joint Committees of Parliament, because of the 31 members, two-thirds are from Lok Sabha and the rest from Rajya Sabha.

Now this JPC, though it was not defined in the rulebook, was introduced at the time of the Bofors. That time we did not have the committee system in place; we had the PAC, but we did not have the parliamentary standing committees.

That time, there was a need for JPC. Likewise, we have had three other JPCs; one for the Harshad Mehta case, Ketan Parekh stocks scam and third for the pesticide issue. This was way back in 2003 and ever since we have not had a JPC.

When a JPC is constituted, its chairman will be from the ruling party and the members are roughly proportionate to the membership in the Parliament.

Since the Congress itself does not have a majority in the Parliament, it is not sure how much members of the party will be in the JPC. I am sure this will be a major contention in Congress's decision to concede or not concede to a JPC.  

Image: C V Madhukar

Sahim Salim in New Delhi