Day 26 – Q 4.Not many private members bills have been passed in the history of the Indian Parliament. What does this suggest? Do individual voices get stifled by a majoritarian discourse? Critically examine.
4. Not many private members bills have been passed in the history of the Indian Parliament. What does this suggest? Do individual voices get stifled by a majoritarian discourse? Critically examine.
भारतीय संसद के इतिहास में कई निजी सदस्यों के बिल पारित नहीं किए गए हैं। इससे क्या पता चलता है? क्या एक व्यक्ति विशेष की आवाज बहुमत के प्रवचन से डाब जाती है? समालोचनात्मक जांच करें।
Any MP who is not a Minister is referred to as a private member. Both Ministers and private members contribute to the lawmaking process. Bills introduced by Ministers are referred to as government bills. Private member’s bills are piloted by non-Minister MPs. Only 14 private member bills have become laws since the first Lok Sabha in 1952, and none in nearly five decades.
- The purpose of Private member’s bills is to draw the government’s attention to what individual MPs see as issues and gaps in the existing legal framework, which require legislative intervention.
- The admissibility of a private member’s Bill is decided by the speaker of the house. Private member’s Bills can be introduced and discussed only on Fridays. Private member’s Bills have been introduced and discussed in Rajya Sabha on 20 days in the last three years.
- Only a fraction of private member’s bills that are introduced, are taken up for discussion. Upon conclusion of the discussion, the Member piloting the Bill can either withdraw it on the request of the Minister concerned, or he/she may choose to press ahead with its passage.
- The last time a private member’s Bill was passed by both Houses was in 1970. This was the Supreme Court (Enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction) Bill, 1968. Fourteen private member’s Bills — five of which were introduced in Rajya Sabha — have become law so far.
- However, it isn’t just the passage of private member bills that has a dismal record. The discussion of such bills since 1999 — when 13th Lok Sabha (data prior to that not available) was formed — has an equally dim record. Of the total of 2,042 such bills introduced in the past two decades, only 49 were taken up for discussion — a mere 2.4 per cent.
Such a dismal record with regards to an important tool of parliamentary functioning can suggest the following:
- Governments have tended to view Private Member Bill’s as an intrusion by non-Ministers into their domain.
- A perception also seems to have been built that the passage of such a Bill would mean that the government is incompetent and far removed from the needs of the people.
- Without support from the ruling party of the alliance, that command majority, it becomes impossible to pass the bill, especially in the Lok Sabha.
- Earlier governments often displayed features of bipartisanship, with the Cabinet Ministers themselves holding opposing views. This resulted in healthy debates and respect towards viewpoints held by others and therefore, a greater acceptance of Private Member legislation. Subsequent governments have not upheld this trait as much, and this shows in the way Private Member Bill’s are treated.
- While any MP can introduce a private member bill, it is difficult to get the bill passed for a number of reasons. These bills get low priority, with both Houses allotting a fixed day and limited time slot for these bills, thus providing little time for them to be taken up for discussion.
The individual voice of Parliamentarians does get stifled to an extent in the lawmaking process due to factors like Anti-defection law, presence of whip and difficulty in the passing of private member’s bill. But there have been incidences of bipartisan support to the private member bills(PMB’s).
- PMBs were designed to empower MPs to bring attention to issues that were willingly or unwillingly ignored by the party at the helm. Mr. Tiruchi Siva’s PMB on the rights of transgender people is another great example. These Bills speak volumes of the significance of PMBs in a democracy.
- An unofficial convention where, if a PMB finds support in the House, the Government usually requests the Private Member to withdraw her/ his Bill with the assurance that the Government will introduce a Bill on the same issue. Most recently, this happened in the case of The Rights of Transgender Persons Bill
- Furthermore, bringing in private member’s bill on a particular topic effectively leads to discussion in the public domain with regards to it and helps in promotion of healthy democratic culture of sharing of views to arrive at consensus.
- Various countries across the world effectively empower their Private Members and respect their initiative in the lawmaking process. For instance, in the UK, since 1948, as many as 775 Private Members’ Bills have received Royal Assent and the Canadian Parliament has passed 290 Private Members’ Bills till date.
India’s lawmaking process appears to be broken due to a distorted balance of power between the government and other Members of Parliament, including the opposition. In this regard, it is the collective responsibility of enlightened citizenry to put pressure on the Parliament and the government to reform the existing procedures to recognise the importance of Private Members inside Parliament.