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Editorial Articles

Issue no 43, 22 - 28 January 2022

Parliament: Fulcrum of The Republic

Rup Narayan Das

India enters the year leading to 73rd anniversary of the Republic and 75th year of Independence, it is propitious to hail the Parliament as the fulcrum of the Republic upholding the principles and ideals of the Constitution including Unity, Integrity, and Sovereignty. It resonates with the spirit of Article 1 of the Constitution that proclaims "India that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States." The Parliament, over the years, has successfully upheld unity amidst diversity and has strengthened democracy in the country.

As we introspect and assess its achievements and failures, it is worthwhile to remember the words of former British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden in 1954, "…the Indian venture is not a pale imitation of our practice at home, but a magnified and multiplied reproduction on a scale we have never dreamt of. If it succeeds, its influence on Asia is incalculable for good. Whatever the outcome, we must honour those who attempted it…"

When India liberated herself from the yoke of colonialism after the epic freedom struggle, the challenge before the nation was how to put in place a system of governance taking into account the vastness of the country and its corresponding economic, social, cultural, and linguistic plurality and diversity and socio-economic backwardness. Many who subscribed to the imperatives of economic and educational advancement as the prerequisite of a liberal democratic edifice expressed their apprehension if the Westminster model, borrowed from abroad, would be efficient if applied on the native soil. But sooner than later, the teeming millions of the electorate who were otherwise illiterate and uneducated proved the prophecies of doom wrong by their robust and earthy common-sense. Nothing more can prove better the resilience of the pulsating democratic and parliamentary polity than the regular and periodic elections to the representative institutions from the Panchayat to the Parliament, the vibrant press, the civil society, and the vigilant judiciary.

India to Emerge as 2nd Largest Asian Economy by 2030

Despite the unprecedented effect the pandemic has had for over two years, there is optimism that India will emerge as the Asia's second-largest economy by 2030, according to an authoritative study by IHS Markit. The study predicts that India is likely to overtake Japan as Asia's second-largest economy by 2030, the year by which India's GDP is projected to surpass that of Germany and the U.K to rank as the world's No 3 economy. Currently, India is the sixth-largest economy, behind the U.S. China, Japan, Germany, and the U.K. According to the IHS Markit study, India's nominal GDP is predicted to rise from $2.7 trillion in 2021 to $8.4 trillion by 2030. In crafting a robust economy and polity, the Parliament of India has been playing a significant role. In this edifice of governance, the Parliament is the fulcrum providing stability, cohesion, and eternal vigil. The Parliament continues to be the barometer of people's aspirations, hopes, and even frustration. No wonder we have the battle of the ballot and not the battle of the bullets.

Broadly, the Parliament performs three functions, viz, making laws, passing the budget, and ensuring executive accountability to the legislature. The very composition of the Parliament consisting of two Houses- the Lok Sabha or the House of the People, and the Rajya Sabha or the Council of the States, and the President of India together provide good governance.

Passing the Laws

The main function of the Parliament is to pass laws. Every Bill has to be passed by both the Houses of Parliament and assented to by the President before it becomes law. The subjects over which the Parliament can legislate are the subjects mentioned under the Union List and Concurrent List in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. Generally, Union subjects are those important subjects which, for reasons of convenience, efficiency, and security, are administered on an all-India basis. The principal Union subjects are Defence, Foreign Affairs, Railways, Transport and Communications, Banking, Customs, and Excise Duties. The Parliament, being a dynamic institution, has been passing numerous progressive legislations for the welfare and wellbeing of the people. It has also been amending or repealing laws that have become obsolete or redundant. In recent times, scientific developments, particularly developments in the realm of Information Communication Technology and cybercrimes have impelled the Parliament to make laws to deal with the emergent challenges. It may however be mentioned that the Parliament per se does not initiate the legislative proposals, it is the concerned Minister in the government who takes the initiative with the leave of the House to introduce the Bill in the House. Parliament deliberates upon the Bill through various stages of its passing and also in the Standing Committees or the Select Committees or the Joint Committee of the Parliament. Perhaps, it is not widely known that when a Bill is referred to a Parliamentary Committee by the Presiding Officer of the House, the views of the experts and even the stakeholders like the civil society are solicited and factored in the deliberations of the Bill. It is these characteristics of the Indian Parliament which is the source of its strength and sustenance. Our Parliament is an open system-open to ideas and suggestions and not a closed system as in some other political systems. Thus, our Parliament has the inherent self healing and self-correcting mechanism. The animated discussions in the House and its Committees mirror the views of all the stakeholders.

Passing the Budget

The second important function of the Parliament is the passing of the Budget in consonance with the democratic principle of 'no taxation without representation' espoused during the American Revolution. It is the cardinal principle of parliamentary government that the executive can neither raise nor spend money without the authority of the Parliament. The Parliament exercises control on the policies and functioning of the executive through its power to review and examine the financial policy of the government and to authorise the expenditure and raising of revenue by the executive. There are provisions in the Constitution of India incorporating these tenets. For example, Article 265 of the Constitution provides that "no tax shall be levied or collected except by authority of law." Article 266 stipulates that "no expenditure can be incurred except with the authorisation of the Legislature." Article 112 envisages that "the President shall, in respect of every financial year, cause to be laid before Parliament, Annual Financial Statement." These provisions of the Constitution make the Government accountable to the Parliament. The 'Annual Financial Statement', laid before both the Houses of Parliament constitutes the Budget of the Union Government. This statement takes into account one financial year. The financial year commences in India on the 1st of April. The statement contains the estimated receipts and expenditures of the Government of India for the financial year.

The estimates of expenditure included in the Budget and required to be voted by Lok Sabha are in the form of Demands for Grants. These Demands are arranged Ministry - wise and a separate Demand for each of the major services are presented. Each Demand contains first a statement of the total grant, and then a statement of the detailed estimates divided into items. It may be mentioned that the practice of separate Railway Budget which was in vogue since 1924, has been dispensed with from 2017. The discussion on the Budget begins a few days after the Budget presentation in the Lok Sabha. In a Parliamentary system like ours, it is mandatory to discuss the budgetary provisions and various proposals for taxation. Since the Parliament is not able to vote the entire budget before the commencement of the new financial year, a special provision is made for 'Vote on Account' to enable the government to meet the expenditure for running the administration. Traditionally, the 'Vote on Account' is taken for two months. But during the election year or when it is anticipated that the main Demands and Appropriation Bill will take a longer time than two months, the 'Vote on Account' may be for an extended period beyond two months. This provision speaks of the sagacity of the framers of the Constitution who could foresee such contingencies.

After the first stage of the general discussion on the Budget, the House is adjourned for a fixed period. During this recess, the Demands for Grants of various Ministries and Departments are referred to the respective Standing Committees for scrutiny. These Committees are required to present their reports to the House within a specified period without asking for more time. The practice of consideration of Demands for Grants started from the year 1993-94 to enable the Parliament to scrutinize the Demands for Grants through the Committees thoroughly and closely. The Lok Sabha has the power to assent or to refuse to give assent to any Demand or even to reduce the amount of Grant sought by the Government. In Rajya Sabha, there is only a general discussion on the Budget. It does not vote on the Demands for Grants. It must also be noted that the 'Charged' expenditure on the Consolidated Fund of India is not subject to vote by Lok Sabha. The 'Charged' expenditure includes the emoluments of the President and the salaries and allowances of the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha and the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha, Judges of Supreme Court, Comptroller and Auditor General of India, and certain other items specified in the Constitution of India.

Ensuring Executive Accountability

Article 75(3) of the Constitution provides, "The Council of Ministers shall be responsible to the House of the People." The legislative and executive apparatus of the country is based on the Parliamentary system. The effectiveness of the Parliament's control over the executive is ensured through various procedural devices such as Parliamentary Questions, Calling Attention Notices, Half an Hour discussions, Adjournment Motions and Motion of Confidence and No-Confidence, besides discussions on the Budget and Presidential Addresses. There is also what is called the 'Zero Hour' which is not mentioned in the Constitution or rules of procedures, nevertheless, it is in the vogue. The Question Hour is a highly developed institution of control over the executive. It is generally the most interesting part of the day's proceedings in Parliament and allows Members of Parliament to subject the executive to critical examination both in respect of its policies and actions. The first hour of the Lok Sabha when the House is in session is the Question Hour which begins at 11 am. The Question Hour is followed by the Zero Hour. In Rajya Sabha, however, the Zero Hour now begins first when the House meets at 11 am and it is followed by the Question Hour. What is not widely known is the silent and invisible role of Parliamentary Committees, as a microcosm of Parliament, in ensuring executive accountability which needs to be understood and appreciated.

Our Judiciary and Defence Forces: The Sentinels of Democracy

We must salute other equally vital institutions such as our impartial judicial system in strengthening Parliamentary democracy in the country. Our professional and apolitical defence forces deserve to be commended for their valour and bravery in upholding the Unity, Integrity and Sovereignty of the nation both during crises and normalcy, in mitigating calamities both natural and manmade. Our soldiers are unsung heroes in providing stability to a fledgling Nation and enabling its unhindered growth as a democratic Republic.

(The writer a Former Joint Secretary of Lok Sabha Secretariat, is currently a Senior Fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research at the Indian Institute of Public Administration.)

Views expressed are personal.