Parliament is spending time to discuss bills.
The recently concluded Budget session yielded a 98 per cent productivity. PRS Legislative data shows that the overall productivity of both houses since the start of the 17th Lok Sabha
has been 103.4 per cent, a marked increase from 69.2 per cent productivity observed for both houses during the 16th Lok Sabha.
While productivity increases signal a shift towards a more efficient running of the houses, further analysis reveals that the trade-off for rising productivity might be a broader consensus.
The better performance figures do not just reflect in productivity; data shows that discussion times have been consistently rising. The number of bills discussed for less than five minutes has reduced drastically, whereas the overall discussion time has increased. On average, the houses have held discussions on a bill for 3 hours during the seventeenth Lok Sabha; the corresponding averages for the sixteenth and fifteenth Lok Sabha
were 2.3 and 2 hours, respectively. However, the government has been relying less and less on Parliamentary committees.
A house cannot discuss all bills in details, and not all members get equal representation; the purpose of house committees has been to address this anomaly. These committees give an opportunity for members to go into details about the intricacies of a bill. It is upon the government to accept the committee's recommendations, but the reports do provide a ground for fervid debate.
However, data indicates that the contribution of committees in bill passage has been falling. In the fourteenth Lok Sabha, 60 per cent of all bills were referred to committees. While this increased to 71 per cent during UPA-2 in the fifteenth Lok Sabha, it has since declined drastically. In the sixteenth Lok Sabha, where the BJP attained a majority, only 27 per cent of bills were referred to the committees. Since the 17th Lok Sabha constitution in 2019—BJP extended its majority and gained more control of Rajya Sabha—the number of bills referred to the committee has more than halved. Only 11 per cent of around 100 bills introduced have been referred to the committees.
An analysis of Rajya Sabha's functioning since 1998 shows that the first NDA government, which was in power for six years (twelfth and thirteenth Lok Sabha), did not do too well in terms of referring bills to the parliamentary committees. Of the 155 bills introduced in Rajya Sabha
between 1998 and 2004, only 42 per cent or 56 were referred to the committees. UPA improved on this, referring two-thirds of the bills introduced in the upper house in the first term. During UPA-2, 71 per cent of bills introduced in the upper house were referred to the committees.
Not only did the NDA government introduce fewer bills in the upper house but it referred just over a third of them to the house committees.
No doubt, then the number of days taken to pass a bill after the introduction have also reduced. In this years' budget session, Lok Sabha passed a bill within 10 days of introduction, and the Rajya Sabha
took an even lower three days.
This is also the reason why more and more bills are being cleared in each session. Between 2009-2014, 40 bills were introduced and passed in the same session. In the succeeding five years of NDA-II, the number of bills introduced and passed in the same session increased to 63. In contrast, in the budget session of 2019 alone, the government introduced and passed 28 bills. In the winter session of 2019, 10 bills were introduced and passed. There were nine such bills in the 2020 budget session, 17 in the monsoon session 2020.
“The downward trend is fairly apparent, a clear indication of a paradigm shift in the workings of the Parliament.
However, whether this is a dilution of Parliament's democratic powers or in fact a speeding up of its processes is a matter of deeper research,” says Narmadeshwar Prasad, director, Parliamentary and Administrative Research Institute (PARI), New Delhi.