The Power to make law is the most important power of Parliament. Either the government or a member of Parliament can initiate legislation for making law. Any MP who is not a minister is a private member and he or she can submit a legislative proposal for enacting it as law. Discussion on a private member’s bill rarely gets disrupted as it did on July 22, 2016 when the private member’s bill concerning special status for Andhra Pradesh was caught up in a pandemonium. There was a demand from a section of the house on July 26 and 27 that the bill be taken up for voting. Rule 24 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of Rajya Sabha mandates that unless the chairman otherwise directs , not less than two-and-a-half hours of a sitting on Friday shall be allotted for transaction of private members’ business.The bill is now scheduled to be discussed in the house on August 5.
Out of 14 private members’ bills enacted so far since the commencement of Parliament in 1952, five were introduced in the Rajya Sabha and became law of the land. These are: The Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Declaration of National Importance, Second Amendment) Bill, 1954; the Hindu Marriage (Amendment)Bill, 1956; the Indian Marine Insurance Bill, 1959; the Orphanages and other Charitable Homes (Supervision and Control) Bill, 1959; and the Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 1963. The importance of private members’ legislations cannot be understood just by their sheer quantity or in terms of the number of such legislations becoming acts of Parliament. The real value can be measured from the ripples they cause and their impact on the government and the public at large.
The then nominated Rajya Sabha MP Rukmini Devi Arundale’s stirring speech on her private member’s bill for preventing cruelty against animals moved Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who assured her of a comprehensive law and she, thereafter, withdrew it. In 1954, Lilavati Munshi’s private members’ resolution against screening of undesirable films was adopted by the Rajya Sabha and the government, therefore, amended the Cinematograph Act and imposed censorship on films. In the 1970s, the Rajya Sabha adopted Banka Behary Das’s resolution for abolition of privy purses and privileges of princely rulers and it was historic in every sense of the term. In 2015, Tiruchi Siva’s private member’s bill on the rights of transgenders was passed by the Rajya Sabha 37 years after the house last passed a private member’s bill.
Unruly scenes do disrupt the private member’s business. On May 7, 2010, the chairman, Rajya Sabha, in his valedictory remarks observed that private members’ business suffered the most on account of disruptions of proceedings of the House. Private members’ resolutions are like “… mirrors with high reflectance value” and these are taken seriously even though very few are adopted by the house. Therefore, MPs are in the forefront to initiate private members’ resolutions and bills on numerous issues and press for discussion and voting.
The historic role played by private members in initiating legislations and resolutions influenced the thinking of the government and propelled it to bring comprehensive legislations on the subject. Former President R. Venkataraman, as chairman, Rajya Sabha, in his speech on the “The Role of a Private Member of Parliament” delivered in the Harold Laski Institute of Political Science in 1986 cherished his role as a private member more than any other role he played in public life. Private members’ resolutions on abolition of capital punishment moved in the Rajya Sabha in 1958 and 1961 by Prithviraj Kapoor and Savitry Devi Nigam respectively and the latest such resolution of D. Raja pending in the house were invoked by Gopal Gandhi in an insightful article on the subject.
In the 1950s, Rajya Sabha MP Seeta Paramananda was repeatedly requested by ministers to withdraw her private member’s bills and resolutions and she sarcastically observed that the time allotted for Friday for private members’ business should be rechristened as “government assurance day for comprehensive legislation”. Introduction of more private members’ bills augurs well for our democracy. These are healthy indicators of constructive and deliberative legislative behaviour which are categorical imperatives for parliamentary democracy.