Sansad-bandi? With paltry 57 sittings, 2017 worst year in history of Indian Parliament
Behind the much-discussed delayed start to this year's Winter Session of Parliament is a bigger picture that is so much more worrying. In fact, it's downright scary.
Why? Well, in terms of the number of its sittings, this year is all set to go down in history as possibly the worst year ever for the Parliament.
So far in 2017, Parliament has assembled for a paltry 48 days. If one adds to that the nine days in December that have been lined up for the forthcoming winter session, the total rises to only 57. In contrast, the Parliament saw 70 sittings in 2016 and 72 in 2015.
This means that 2017 is the worst year on this count, at least since 1999. Considering that the Parliament, generally, used to be in session for many more days in the decades before that, it can be safely concluded that the annual number of sittings has never tumbled down to this level previously.
The only exception are the years that saw elections to the Lok Sabha, as election years usually see a truncated Budget session. Apart from that only one year stands out as an exception, which is 2008. There were only two sessions that year, as against three sessions that are usually held every year. The year 2008 saw this anomaly because the then UPA government wanted to prevent a second no-confidence motion being moved against it.
Data provided by PRS Legislative Research shows the year-wise progression since 1999.
In 2000, Lok Sabha was in session for as many as 85 days. In fact, in the last 10 years, the lower House has met for an average of 70 days a year. This number was much higher during the 1950s and 1960s, as the house used to meet for an average of 120 days a year.
The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution had recommended that Lok Sabha must meet for a minimum of 120 days a year. Former Vice President Hamid Ansari had suggested at the Whips Conference in 2008 that the number of sittings must increase to 130 days.
In the last two decades, Parliamentarians have generally accepted that they must strive to enable the Parliament to sit for at least 100 days a year. However, the third full-fledged year of the Narendra Modi government's five-year tenure has proved itself to be a landmark, slashing that number by half.
Not surprisingly, parliamentarians and political leaders have decried this development. The Congress party's senior spokesperson Shakeel Ahmad told Catch that this was unfortunate for India's democratic set-up. This government is deliberately ignoring Parliament to run away from accountability, he added.
CPI(M) politburo member and Member of Lok Sabha Md Salim said this truncating of the Parliament's sittings is a deliberate attempt on the part of the government to undermine India's parliamentary democracy.
Biju Janata Dal's Bhartruhari Mahtab, serving his fifth term in the Lok Sabha, told Catch that this shows the scant regard we have for our democratic practices and it is something that this government will have to explain. In a statement that stressed on the wide-reaching implications of this ignominious record, Mahtab stressed that this was “a warning bell”.
Rashtriya Janata Dal's national spokesperson Manoj Jha also slammed the government for its “downright contempt for parliamentary procedures and long-established traditions”.
“Like the totalitarian regimes across the world, the modus operandi of this government unequivocally conveys disregard to the systems and processes which have upheld the tradition of healthy parliamentary protocols through all these years”.
Jha emphasised that this is “a wake-up call not only for political parties in the Opposition but also for citizens in general that if we don't act collectively, we might even lose 'democracy as top-dressing only', as Baba Saheb had warned”.