Bricks And Mortar As Well

More than a new building, Parliament needs an update of its procedures.

Written by Chakshu Roy | Published:August 8, 2016 12:04 am
india-new-parliament-building-PM Modi-rajya sabha-lok sabha parliament, new parliament, new parliament building, sansad bhavan, new parliament complex, sumitra mahajan, venkaiah naidu, bjp, india news Some experts point out the inadequacy of office space for political parties in the building. They also refer to major and minor incidents which are a cause of concern.

Last week newspapers reported that the government is agreeable to the idea of a new parliament building. For some time, the idea behind a new parliament building has been gaining momentum. Last year Speaker Sumitra Mahajan wrote to the urban development ministry stating that the iconic circular building was showing “signs of distress”. In 2012 Meira Kumar, the then Lok Sabha speaker, said that the parliament building is “weeping”.

Some experts point out the inadequacy of office space for political parties in the building. They also refer to major and minor incidents which are a cause of concern. A fire in the parliament house complex, earlier this year, and the disruptions of Rajya Sabha proceedings in 2012 due to a stench in the house being two of them. Other experts believe that with proper restoration and upkeep, the parliament building can continue to function for many more years. In this debate, we overlook that there is more to the institution of parliament than the building it is housed in. Equally, if not more important, than the circular edifice of parliament are the rules of procedure that govern its functioning. The last major procedural change was in the early 1990s when the standing committee system was introduced.Our constitution empowers both houses of parliament to make their own procedures. The two houses have their own rule book which guides their functioning. Therefore the rules applicable in the two houses while being broadly similar differ on some aspects. For example, Rajya Sabha MPs are required to declare their financial interests in a register maintained by their committee of ethics. However, Lok Sabha MPs do not have a similar requirement. The houses can change their procedures based on the recommendation of the rules committee of their house. The rules committee of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have produced a total of 14 reports in the past 15 years recommending changes in the functioning of the two houses.

Our constitution empowers both houses of parliament to make their own procedures. The two houses have their own rule book which guides their functioning. Therefore the rules applicable in the two houses while being broadly similar differ on some aspects. For example, Rajya Sabha MPs are required to declare their financial interests in a register maintained by their committee of ethics. However, Lok Sabha MPs do not have a similar requirement. The houses can change their procedures based on the recommendation of the rules committee of their house. The rules committee of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have produced a total of 14 reports in the past 15 years recommending changes in the functioning of the two houses.

Some of these improvements can help streamline parliamentary functioning. For example, currently all bills are not referred to standing committees for scrutiny. When the government wants to push certain legislation through parliament quickly it can request the presiding officer of a house to not refer the bill to a committee. While this ensures quick passage of legislation it also means that parliamentary scrutiny is compromised. Changing the rules of procedure making it mandatory for all bills to be examined by committees will strengthen parliament’s law making ability. Similarly, at times, the government tries to introduce, discuss and pass a bill on the same day. Suspension of certain procedures in the rule book gives the government the ability to do so. Mandating that bills can only be passed after members of the house have been given a reasonable time to study the bills will ensure that MPs are able to contribute effectively to legislative discussions.

Parliamentary procedure has been reformed and updated in many countries. In the UK a committee on modernisation of the House of Commons was established in 1997 Based on its recommendations, programming of legislation and more scrutiny of legislative proposals have started taking place in the UK parliament. Another important change based on this committee’s recommendation was advance planning of the parliamentary calendar. Overhauling parliamentary procedure will also have a cascading effect on state legislatures. A new building of parliament will have no meaning, if the procedures of parliament are also not modernised.

Overhauling parliamentary procedure will also have a cascading effect on state legislatures. A new building of parliament will have no meaning, if the procedures of parliament are also not modernised.

The writer is head, outreach, PRS Legislative Research

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