Constant Adjournment due to Grave Disorder in Indian Parliament: Its Cause and Implication for Rule of Law

Sandeep Chandrasekharan[1] & Meera Remesh[2]

Topics Covered in this article

Abstract

Indian Parliament has a long history of adjournment of session due to grave disorder by members of the parliament in their respective houses. The frequency of adjournment due to grave disorder is increasing with each parliamentary session and its impact has become so acute that the same has paralyzed the parliament from executing its powers and duties as the animator of wisdom of Indian Constitution. When Parliament is held ransom to the ever-increasing political infighting of members of parliament where rule of law is giving way to rule of unruly behaviors, also taking into account the financial cost of such impasse of parliament. This paper tries to analyses the cause for the ever-increasing frequency of adjournment due to grave disorder in the parliament, and suggests ways to remedy the same for ensuring the predominance of Rule of Law in India.

Introduction

The Parliament of India is one of the most powerful political institutions in the world as well as the supreme institutions among the three main pillars of Indian State. The relative supremacy of Parliament over other institutions of state is only checked by its stringent procedure for exercise of such powers written and expressly articulated within the constitution.[3] Without the stringent procedure which ensures every act of parliament represents the will of the people, the parliament will resort to actions of discretion and become an unfettered instrument which is above the law with its ability to addition, variation or repeal the provisions of the Indian Constitution.[4] Since the only factor that restrict or limit the supreme powers of the parliament are its procedures prescribed within the constitution they also represent the element of rule of law to which the parliament must comply. But if these procedures themselves are amendable by the act of parliament will they constitute elements of rule of law is debatable.[5]

The Legitimacy for the status of parliament as the supreme institution among the organs of the State is derived from the fact that it is a democratic institution or that which represents the will of the people (Lok Sabha or the House of the People directly represent the will of the people hence relatively more powerful than the council of States or Rajya Sabha who are indirectly elected ) unlike other pillars of governance i.e. the executive and judiciary, evidenced by the election procedural norms involved in selection of members of parliament Therefore, it can be said that democracy and its institutions are also constituents of Rule of Law in India as it should be.[6]

Unfortunately, there is an apparent defect in the procedural rules of setting up of agenda in parliament and the nature of post of each respective preceding officer of the respective houses of parliament namely the Speaker for the House of the People and Chairman for the Council of States coupled with the rules with regard to adjournment provides a toxic environment where the parliament is paralyzed and unable to execute the procedures articulated by the constitution to actuate its provisions.

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The rules of procedure on the conduct of business of Parliament formulated by the respective houses of parliament by themselves as their exclusive prerogative,[7] provides that, in the case of a grave disorder arising in the House, the Speaker/Chairman, may if thinks it necessary to do so, adjourn the House or suspend any sitting for a time to be named by the Speaker/Chairman as the case may be.[8] The disorder of the parliament leading to adjournment are often caused by tussle between the executive and the opposition over political controversies of varying nature and the current system of procedure for setting the agenda of the parliament enables the ruling party members to   neglect its duty to discuss such political controversy and hold the executive responsible to important legislative bills and policies on education, health, social welfare, law and order etc.

The cause for frequent grave disorder leading to adjournment of the parliament can be traced to the functioning of the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) of each houses of parliament or its failure to decide on what to discuss.  A BAC is one among the standing committee headed by the respective preceding officers of the respective houses of parliament consisting of all the floor leaders of all the parties of the respective houses, entrusted with the responsibility to recommend the time that should be allotted for the discussion of such government legislative and other business through either consensus among the members or upon failing to reach a consensus, at the discretion of the chairperson of the committee.[9] An exception is the rule for no-confidence motions, which are mandatory if demanded in writing by at least 50 MPs.[10] It is fact that most often reaching a concensus among different parties on any particular topic of political controversy is next to impossible. Then. the preceding officer of the concerned house is left with no options other than to force his or her decision on the committee members which often elicit a grave disruption of the parliament by its members forcing an adjournment of the session in the concerned house.[11]

When these adjournments eat away into the time to conduct business of legislation by parliament, such a situation yields an unfettered executive circumventing democratic overview of legislative processes by excessive exercise of ordinance making power by the executive[12] leading to violation of rule of law.

The paralysis of parliamentary proceedings can be remedied with certain steps of reforms. First among them includes the introduction of an Opposition Day Clause within the rules of procedure of our parliament. Opposition day is a concept of parliamentary proceedings which exist in most western parliamentary systems. In United Kingdom for instance, opposition days are days allocated in the House of Commons for the discussion of subjects chosen by the opposition (non-government) parties which includes the allocation of 20 days for this purpose per session.[13]In the absence of the concept of opposition day in Indian Parliamentary rules of conduct the schedule and matter for discussion are decided by the ruling government which leaves the opposition with no other options other than to force the ruling government to convene a parliamentary session to set the agenda which most of the time leads to disorder of the houses of parliament leading to an adjournment sanctioned by the presiding officer of either houses of parliament.[14]  An introduction of opposition day clause in the rules of procedure of both houses of parliament may de-escalate the problem.

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Another major cause of disruption through adjournment in parliamentary proceedings are caused by the suspicion of opposition party on the independent nature of office of the speaker most of the time held by a Lok Sabha member of the ruling political party and the same person retains such membership even after becoming a bearer of the office of the speaker.[15] Therefore, the ruling of the Speaker is seen as politically motivated and biased. In contrast in the United Kingdom, the speakers resign from their party membership. Another major difference in approach is with regard to major political parties including the speaker’s political party restrain themselves from field candidates in the speaker’s constituency during general elections.[16] The speakers also distance themselves from any campaign on political issues, and contest as “speaker seeking re-election.”[17] If the Indian parliament succeeds in incorporating the British tradition of etiquette in election of speaker, it can boost the confidence of members of Lok Sabha upon the office of the speaker and significantly mitigate parliamentary adjournment disruptions caused by disorder in the house.

Another solution for further mitigation of grave disorderly conduct in the parliament is to formulate two non-discretionary rules for voting and non-voting discussions. It can be executed for instance by mandating the signatures of 50 MP’s leading to a non-voting discussion and mandating 100 MPs’ signatures for a voting-discussion would solve the bottleneck of trying to set the agenda through impractical consensus.[18] Further more the discretion of the preceding officer to punish for unruly behavior of a member within the parliament can be replaced by a rule providing a specific punishment for unruly behavior defined by the rule itself.[19] An automatic removal of an MP for a day for going into the well for the first time, and for the rest of the session for doing it a second time, would go a long way to restore the dignity of Parliament.[20] Furthermore, it is virtually impossible to give each and every party represented on the parliament to express their opinion on each and every subject matter submitted before it and any attempt at it will only yield disorder of the parliament leading to adjournment. Under such circumstances, through a specific rule the criterion for allocation of time for debates must be made subject matter specific than just strength specific.[21] The criterion for allocation of time for debates can be subject matter specific by taking variables such as qualification of a member to debate such a topic, or experience of a member to debate such topic, or how far such topic of debate affects the constituency of the member who wants to debate upon it.

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Conclusion

When  parliamentary procedures for setting up of agenda is governed by discretion and concensus where it is impossible to reach consensus among political parties with deferring political interests and the exercise of discretion by a preceding officer of either house of parliament who is politically attached to a party in the house concerned will be viewed with suspicion and contempt by members of the parliament with regard to his or her impartiality and objectivity while exercising such discretion leading to adjournment of parliamentary session due to grave disorder.  Therefore, the only solution is to transition from a consensus based and discretion-based agenda setting system to a rule-based agenda setting system to mitigate the constant adjournment of Indian parliament due to grave disorder. Rule must also be in place to ensure where and when discretion is required and exercised i.e. with regard to the office of the respective preceding officer of the either House of parliament concerned, the same is exercised by a body or a person with the capacity of impartiality and objectivity. The sole responsibility to implement these solutions lies with the members of parliament among themselves as the other organs of the state namely the executive and judiciary cannot intervene in the internal matters of parliament to which the latter has complete exclusivity. To do so in any form or fashion by the executive or the judiciary by means of any executory or judicial acrobatics will be an infringement on the doctrine of separation of powers clearly defined by the Indian constitution leading to simultaneous violation of rule of law which needs to be avoided.


[1] Advocate, Member And Joint Secretary Of Law And Justice Research Foundation, Trivandrum

[2] Student, Ll. B, Kerala Law Academy Law College, Trivandrum.

[3] INDIAN CONST. art.368.

[4] INDIAN CONST. art.368, cl.6.

[5] Nikhil G, What Does ‘Rule Of Law’ Really Mean In India?, HUFFINGTONPOST (May 16, 2018, 5:00 pm) https://www.huffingtonpost.in/nikhil-g-nair/the-rule-of-law-conundrum_b_8705982.html.

[6] A/HRC/RES/19/36.

[7] INDIAN CONST., art.118.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Business Advisory Committee under Other Parliamentary Standing Committees, LOKSABHA (May 16, 2018, 5:11 pm),

http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Committee/CommitteeInformation.aspx?comm_code=39&tab=2.

[10] Parliament Logjam: 5 rules to better discretion, dnaindia.com (May 16, 2018, 5:12 pm), http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/column-5-rules-to-better-discretion-2285241

[11] Parliament functioning in Budget Session 2018, PRSINDIA (May 16, 2018, 6:00pm) http://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/parliament-functioning-in-budget-session-2018-5203/.

[12] Krishna Kumar Singh vs. State of Bihar, Civil Appeals No. 5875 Of 1994 With Nos. 3533-95 Of 1995, 5876-90 Of 1994, 580 Of 1995 And Ia No. 3.

[13] Glossary, PARLIMAENTUK (May 17, 2018, 9:50 am), https://www.parliament.uk/site-information/glossary/opposition-days/.

[14] Important Parliamentary Terms, RAJYASABHA (May 16, 2018, 5:00 pm), https://rajyasabha.nic.in/rsnew/parliamentary_term/important_partliament_term.asp.

[15] Election of the Speaker, SPEAKERLOKSABHA (May 17, 2018, 10:00pm), https://speakerloksabha.nic.in/roleofthespeaker.asp#election.; INDIA CONSTI. art. 93.

[16] Speakers and General Elections, PARLIAMENTUK, (May 17, 2018, 10:20 am ),

https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/evolutionofparliament/parliamentwork/offices-and-ceremonies/overview/the-speaker/elections/

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.