From 1952 to 1967, each of the three Lok Sabhas sat for an average of 600 days and more than 3,700 hours. In comparison, the 15th Lok Sabha -- from 2009 till 2013 -- has met for just 345 days and 1,331 hours -- legislative work overall took a back seat -- says Shreya Singh
The 15th Lok Sabha will meet for the last time for 12 sittings from 5th to 21st February. This will be an extension of the Winter Session, as both Houses were not prorogued when Parliament adjourned in December.
The United Progressive Alliance government has released its plan for passing 39 bills in this extended Winter Session. This includes six key anti-corruption legislations as well as the controversial Telangana Bill, the long pending Women’s Reservation Bill, and other important Bills such as the Educational Tribunals Bill and the Street Vendors Bill.
Parliament’s inability to pass legislation has been one of the most striking features of the 15th Lok Sabha. For example, 31 Bills were listed for consideration and passage in the session held in December 2013. Only one -- The Lokpal Bill -- was passed. While this session was one of the worst performing sessions of the 15th Lok Sabha, legislative work overall took a back seat.
The 15th Lok Sabha was productive for 63 per cent of the total scheduled time. Only a fifth of the meeting time was spent on legislative work. That is, only 13 per cent of the time originally scheduled for sitting was spent on legislative work.
A decrease in the time spent on legislative business has led to a slowdown in the number of Bills passed in this session of the Sabha. One hundred and sixty five Bills have been passed till date. This is about half of the 333 Bills that India’s first Lok Sabha (1952-1957) had passed.
The average number of Bills passed by Lok Sabhas that have finished full five-year terms is 317 Bills. At present, 126 Bills are left pending in Parliament -- Fifty-four in Rajya Sabha, and 72 in Lok Sabha. All the Lok Sabha Bills will lapse at the time of its dissolution.
Some of the important Bills that could lapse at the end of the 15th Lok Sabha relate to higher education. These include the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill, which sets regulations for the entry of foreign universities; the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority Bill, which provides for establishing an authority for accrediting colleges; and the National Academic Depository Bill, which seeks to establish a national database of academic awards in electronic format. These Bills have not been passed by either House and may also lapse in the next two months.
A number of important Bills relating to the financial and economic sectors may also lapse. These include the Direct Taxes Code Bill, the Constitution Amendment related to the Goods and Services Tax, the Mines and Minerals Bill, the Public Procurement Bill, the Micro Finance Institutions Bill, and the Coal Regulatory Authority Bill.
Indeed, there are Bills across several sectors that could not be passed until now. For example, the Seeds Bill and the Pesticides Bill are awaiting passage for 10 and 6 years respectively. There are three long-pending constitutional amendments for reservation for women in legislatures, panchayats and municipalities.
If the Bills pending in Lok Sabha are not passed, 72 of them will lapse on February 21. This is significantly higher than earlier Lok Sabhas. For example, 43 Bills lapsed in 2004 and 39 in 2009.
The Constitution empowers the government to make a law when Parliament is not in session. These are referred to as Ordinances and need to be approved by Parliament in its next session. Twenty-eight Ordinances have been promulgated during the term of the 15th Lok Sabha. On multiple occasions, the government issued Ordinances after having already introduced a similar Bill that was pending in Parliament.
This was the case in the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Ordinance (on women’s safety after the Delhi gang rape incident) and the National Food Security Ordinance.
Another trend in the 15th Lok Sabha was the repromulgation of Ordinances when the original Ordinance lapsed because it was not passed by Parliament. These include the Indian Medical Council (Amendment) Ordinance, the Readjustment of Representation of SCs and STs in Parliamentary and Assembly Constituencies Ordinance, and the Securities (Laws) Amendment Ordinance, all of which were issued more than once in 2013.
Parliament has also seen a decline in the number of sitting days. Even the scheduled time for these days has not been fully utilised due to frequent disruptions. From 1952 to 1967, each of the three Lok Sabhas sat for an average of 600 days and more than 3,700 hours. In comparison, the 15th Lok Sabha -- from 2009 till 2013 -- has met for 345 days and 1,331 hours.
Lesser legislative time results in a larger proportion of Bills getting passed without adequate scrutiny and debate in the House. In the 15th Lok Sabha, 35 per cent of the total Bills passed were debated for an hour or less and 20 per cent of the total Bills passed were debated for less than two hours. These include Bills with significant implications, such as the Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment at the Work Place Bill, which was passed earlier this year by Lok Sabha in 20 minutes.
It would be wrong to ignore some of the important achievements of the 15th Lok Sabha. Big ticket legislations such as the Right to Education Bill, the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, the Food Security Bill, the Land Acquisition Bill, the Prohibition of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill, the Companies Bill, the Pension Bill and the Lokpal Bill have been passed.
Several important Bills across sectors have been introduced. There is a broad agreement across parties on many of these Bills, which provides the next government with the opportunity to revive the discussion on them. The challenge for the members of Parliament elected to the next Lok Sabha would be to transcend partisan politics, and have constructive debates on legislative Bills and other issues of national importance.
We hope they rise to this challenge.
The writer works with PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi