The Backdrop of Indian Parliament: Procedure, Ethics and More

G. L. Batra, ST Guest Columnist, Writer & formerly Addl. Secretary, Indian Parliament and Chairman, Public Service Commission of the Indian State of Haryana


Procedural initiatives, innovations and reforms

While adopting the Parliamentary form of governance, the framers of our Constitution kept in mind the Westminster model. However, the system of government in India is unique in its form and substance. Post-independence, the Indian Parliament has brought in several new mechanisms so that members may ventilate the problems faced by the people, draw the attention of the government to major issues, and elicit its views or stand thereon. Some of the major initiatives or innovations introduced by the Indian Parliament, over the years, include, Calling Attention Notices, Half-an-hour Discussions, Short Duration Discussions, Business Advisory Committee, Committee on Papers laid on the Table of the House, Committee on Government Assurances etc. Some other initiatives of far-reaching importance insofar as Parliamentary developments are concerned have been the setting up of the Department Related Standing Committees (DRSCs), Ethics Committee, the Committee on the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) and the Joint Committee on the Empowerment of Women.

Imperative of Discipline and Decorum

Many people believe that the standard of our Parliament and Parliamentarians has declined over the years. Parliament being also a deliberative body, a certain amount of heat, noise and tumult on the floor is inevitable. But quite often, heated discussions lead to commotion and pandemonium and a lot of precious time of the House is wasted this way. All this causes concern as it undermines the respect for the representative institutions and affects their credibility with the people. Obstruction of the business of the House is indeed a serious matter. An onerous responsibility lies on each Parliamentarian to see that Parliamentary time is used with greater discipline and sense of commitment, as it would lead to a higher degree of productivity. Parliament itself is seized of the issue and the Rules of Procedure are constantly reviewed to cope with the emerging realities.

An Independent Legislative Secretariat

The concept of Parliamentary democracy presupposes the existence of a separate secretariat independent of the executive. Therefore it has been specifically provided under Article 98 that each House of Parliament shall have a separate secretariat and staff. Common posts can be created for both Houses of Parliament. For the Parliament to be supreme in its sphere, it must be serviced by a secretariat which is subordinate to it and is not subordinate to any outside authority. The executive is accountable to the Parliament and to outwit the influence of the executive it is essential that the legislative secretariat be independent of the executive.

The establishment of an independent Legislative Secretariat has a long history behind it and it may not be possible keeping in view the parameters of this book to give full details. However, the earnest efforts for its creation were initiated by Vithalbhai Patel when he was President of the erstwhile Central Legislative Assembly. On 17th August 1927, President Patel presented to the Governor General, a carefully worked out scheme embodying proposals for setting up a separate department for the Legislative Assembly. The essentials of President Patel’s proposals were,

“1. That the assembly office should be separated from the Legislative Department of the Government of India, and be treated as an independent Department, and not merely, as an office attached to any department of Government.

2. That its principal officers and establishment should be under the control of the Assembly through its President.

3. That the financial proposals of the new Department should be included in the annual budget without any scrutiny by the Finance Department, the Assembly to be the final judge as to whether the proposed expenditure was necessary[1].”

The efforts continued and on 22nd September 1928, Pt. Motilal Nehru moved on the floor, the resolution seeking the Constitution of a separate Legislative Assembly Department. The resolution was seconded by another illustrious leader, Lala Lajpat Rai. The resolution was unanimously adopted.

The Secretary of State for India accorded his approval to the scheme as set forth in the resolution along with certain modifications, and on January 10th 1929, a separate and self-sufficient Legislative Department was created. The President of the Legislative Assembly was to be its de-facto head. Subsequently, the officers and Staff of the Legislative Assembly Department began to be appointed in accordance with the Legislative Department (Condition of Service) Rules, 1929, and the position and authority of the President of the Assembly came to be recognised in the matter of their recruitment and conditions of service[2].

The creation of a separate secretariat for both Houses of Parliament as well as legislative assemblies was debated in the Constituent Assembly and Articles 98 and 187 for Parliament and State Legislatures respectively were incorporated in the Constitution.

The Secretary General

The Legislative Secretariat is headed by the Secretary General under the overall control of the Speaker. The office of the Secretary General is unique in many ways; its role in Parliament is vital even though most of it is imperceptible and performed behind the scenes[3].  He is answerable to the Speaker so also to the House as he is an officer of the House. The staff works under his control and the ultimate control of the Hon’ble Speaker, and powers of appointment of Secretary General and staff of the secretariat vest with the honourable Speaker, unless the Speaker deems it necessary to delegate the functions of appointment of certain category of staff of the secretariat. As per well established conventions, the Secretary General is appointed by the Speaker in consultation with the Leader of the House and the Leader of Opposition.

The functions of the Secretary General are multiple in nature. The staff of the Secretariat assists the Speaker and the Secretary General in the efficient discharge of the functioning of the House. A spirit of service to the country, attitude of objectivity, spirit of tolerance, the will to resolve complicated and sensitive matters, alacrity in action, a sense of respect for the members of the legislature, patience and self control are essential attributes for the staff in carrying out their duties and responsibilities.

Avoidance of publicity, upholding dignity of the Speaker’s office, and a profound knowledge of men and affairs are the hallmarks of the Secretarial staff. A Parliamentary official generally feels youthful and full of energy in the company and presence of such an august body of which he is in body, mind and spirit, an essential part. The members of the Secretariat Staff genuinely realise that they are ‘servants of the rules of procedure’, and proceed and act accordingly.

This has been my personal experience, in Lok Sabha Secretariat, as Joint Secretary and Additional Secretary that I found the staff to be very prompt, energetic, open to convictions, intelligent and conscientious. I never faced any difficulty on a situation where I had to intervene to resolve any problem created by the staff among themselves. I can cite one of several examples, the Speaker directed me to publish a Compendium of the findings and recommendations of the contained in the then newly created Departmentally-related Committees. With the sincere co-operation and able assistance of the Secretariat staff, it became possible for me to prepare and publish the Compendium consisting of the recommendations and observations contained in forty eight reports of the seventeen Standing Committees, within a period of four days as desired by the Speaker, while working even late at nights I can still recollect the vividly the smile on the face of the speaker when he released the Compendium to the members. I never doubted their capability to discharge their duties as the situation of promptness demanded.  The services of the Lok Sabha Secretariat were appreciated umpteen times by stalwart Parliamentarians including Shri Madhu Dandavate who was a master of rules and procedure of the House. He said, “We find such a remarkable efficiency in the Secretariat of the Lok Sabha, for that matter of the entire Parliament, the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha, and the efficiency of the Lok Sabha Secretariat does not percolate down to the Secretariat of the Government of India. I tried to analyse as to why such efficiency is maintained by the Lok Sabha Secretariat. And one reason I found is very clear. The first enemy of efficiency is red tape. I think our Lok Sabha Secretariat has totally got itself rid of red tape[4].”  He further said that in the past sixteen years he must have given hundreds and hundreds of notices, no-confidence motions and adjournment motions, and whenever he got up during the proceedings, and said ‘I have given a notice, the Speaker always responded, ‘Your notice is on the Table’. None of his notices were ever missed in the channel. There was no need of  signature or receipt, nor did he ever feel the need to remind the secretarial staff on the telephone. Shri Dandavate remembers Shri Shakhder, the then Secretary General as once telling him that this particular system is called the system of faith[5].  The Hon Prime Minister, VP Singh is said to have remarked, “if the efficiency as shown by the secretariat staff is adopted by the staff of the executive, the things will go very fast.”

We had very illustrious Secretaries General of eminence, in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The Lok Sabha has had Secretaries General like M.N. Kaul, S.L. Shakdher, and Dr. Subhash C. Kashyap who are intellectuals, apt administrators and prolific authors. The book ‘Kaul and Shakdher’ on rules and procedure is a recognised authoritative book which should essentially be in the hands of every member of the House. The work was originally authored by M. N. Kaul and S. L. Shakhder, and later on edited by Dr. Subhash C. Kashyap. I have had the privilege of working with Dr. Kashyap, when he was Secretary General of the Lok Sabha. I found that he mostly used to take actions even on the administrative side only after consulting his colleagues. He wanted files to be decided and disposed of as expeditiously as required. He was a great inspiration to me and I got a great exposure and learnt the fundamental principles of a Parliamentary official, while working with him, and I feel indeed indebted to him. Dr. Kashyap had his firm views and maintained the dignity of the office, and never deviated from his principles under any circumstances.

The Rajya Sabha Secretariat, too has similarly been headed by eminent personalities like Smt. V. S. Rama Devi. Shri Sudarshan Agarwal is also among the eminent intellectuals, who have graced this position. Shri Agarwal, held several responsible positions in the judiciary and the government before becoming Secretary General. He has also been involved with Rotary International, and has held important positions in that organisation. Shri Agarwal was the Governor of the State of Uttarakhand, and there after he became the Governor of Sikkim. So too Smt. Rama Devi held the office of Governorship of Karnataka

The Secretary General of Rajya Sabha is designated as Secretary General, Parliament, whereas Secretary General of the Lok Sabha is referred to as Secretary General, Lok Sabha. The Secretary Generals are also the returning officers for the election to the President and Vice President by turn.

In spite of the fact that there is an independent legislative secretariat in every State, certain impediments do exist in some of the States. The Speaker appoints the Secretary of the Assembly in consultation with the Governor, and the orders are also passed in the name of the Governor.  These difficulties to attain the complete independence fro the executive and other important matter relating to Rules of Procedure and conduct of the House are debated and discussed in the Conference of Secretaries of Legislative Bodies annually presided over by the Secretaries General of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.

Parliamentary Committees – Standing Committees

Financial control and executive accountability is the very essence of Parliamentary democracy. This is based on the fundamental principle that no taxation without people’s consent and no expenditure without people’s authority may be made. In the Parliamentary form of government as we have in India, the will of the people is sovereign and the same is exercised through the elected representatives of the people in Parliament and the  State Legislatures. Hence, the check that Parliament exercises over the executive stems from the basic principles that Parliament embodies the will of the people and it must therefore be able to supervise the way and the manner in which public policy laid down by Parliament is carried out. However, due to the magnitude and complexity of state activities, Parliament as a body cannot effectively scrutinise the account of the executive. In fact, it has neither the time for thorough examination or scrutiny of varied complex details of modern administration, nor because of its very size is suited for such a task. Experience of Parliaments in all parts of the world shows that in enforcing executive accountability, the committee system with adequate powers is the best suited for oversight responsibilities, the working of various departments. The power of the purse lies in Parliament and no amount at all can be drawn from the coffers without its prior sanction.

Among the existing network of committees in Indian Parliament, the most important ones are the three financial committees namely, the Committee on Public Accounts, the Committee on estimates and the Committee on Public undertakings, which play a significant role in ensuring financial control, public administrative accountability to the legislature. However, since the very pattern of administrative functioning has undergone radical changes over the years, especially due to the increasing state environment in the social and economic spheres, the policies, programmes, and performances of all the ministries do not come up for closer scrutiny even by these Committees. It was seen that owing to the paucity of time, quite often, the demands for grants of most of the ministries get guillotined without any discussion. This brought to the fore the need for suitable reforms in the existing committee system for better legislative control over the working of administration in diverse fields.

A proposal of far reaching nature designed to strengthen the committee system and to secure administrative accountability in a more effective manner was placed before the Rules Committee in the closing months of the life of the 8th Lok Sabha. The Rules Committee approved the proposals to initially set up three Subject Committees – one each on agriculture, science and technology, and environment and forests. Rules in respect of these Committees were approved by the House and they Committees were constituted with effect from August 18, 1989. The functioning of these subject committees over a period of three years convinced everyone of their utility as viable instruments to ensure proper legislative scrutiny over the activities of various departments of the Government.  There was a general consensus among all concerned based on the experience gained, that the 10th LS should go in for a full-fledged committee system. The then Hon Speaker, Shivraj V. Patil took the initiative and held discussions with the Prime Minister, Leaders of Parties, members and others. These proposals were placed before the Rules Committee of the Lok Sabha and so also the in joint meeting of the Rules Committees of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha convened at the instance of the Speaker, and chaired by the Vice President, who is the ex-officio Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. Finally, the Rules Committee in its third report presented to Lok Sabha in 1993, recommended the setting up of seventeen Department Related Standing Committee of Parliament. On 31st March 1993, an impressive function was held in the Central Hall of Parliament. His Excellency the Vice President of India, K R Narayanan, formally inaugurated the new Standing Committee System. The function was also attended by Shri P.V. Narasimha Rao, the then Hon Prime Minister and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shri V.C. Shukla, among others. Setting up of these Committees, meant the realisation of the long cherished idea of the Hon Speaker, Lok Sabha, Shivraj V Patil, undoubtedly he was the chief architect of the creation of these Committees. In each Committee there was a proportional representation of members of both Houses of Parliament. Some of these Committees were assigned to Rajya Sabha also. The then government of Shri Narasimha Rao had a wafer thin majority in Parliament, and the leaders of various parties were made heads of these Committees, and were provided with all facilities like office space, telephones etc.  These Committees covered the various Ministries of the Government of India. Referring to the Committees, the Hon Speaker said, “These Committees shall help the People, the Parliament, the Executive to use the system in a most cost-effective, democratic and purposeful manner.”

Such Departmentally Related Committee Systems do exist in commonwealth countries including UK. The task of assisting the formulation and framing the rules was assigned to the author who with his due diligence and the able assistance of the staff provided for the purposes, was able to complete the job successfully. The then Hon. Speaker Shri Shivraj V. Patil, in his address at the inaugural function of these Standing Committees, appreciated and commended the work and efforts put in by the author. I personally had the experience of seeing the working of the Committee system at the Westminster when I was deputed by the Lok Sabha Secretariat as Secretary, Haryana Legislative Assembly, for the course of instruction in Parliamentary Practice and Procedures, Recent Innovations and Developments, in the House of Commons, UK in the year 1986, under the able guidance and inspiration of the Vice President of India, Shri K R Narayanan and Speaker, Lok Sabha Shri Shivraj V Patil. The whole task was achieved

The Houses of Parliament or State Legislature are places of debate and during debates and counter debates, differences in point of view are natural, and that leads to altercations as sometimes tempers run high. It cannot be ignored that the elected representatives who are elected by the electorate, carry with them, the aspirations, the needs and requirements    of their respective electorates, and when there are multi-parties, their policies are different and consensus can only be reached through debates, and in achieving those objectives, they are to exert themselves in their debates to make out their points of view, to come up to the expectations of their masters, who are the voters. The disorder becomes imminent and arises out of a sense of frustration when their demands are not met, or their points of view are not taken, or because at the paucity of time at the disposal of the House, they are not given opportunity or sufficient time, to express themselves and put forth their point of view.

However, one principle should not be forgotten. The greater the power, the greater should be the restraint. Anything which is said strongly can also be said calmly and firmly, without being loud. The competence and wisdom of our Legislators are not in doubt. One can achieve more if one has the will and power to persuade rather than to expostulate. Shri K R Narayanan the illustrious former President of India said, “The argument has been advanced that when there is unrest in society, sometimes bordering on violent outbreaks, whether it would be realistic to isolate the Legislature entirely from such developments? It is unavoidable for the Legislatures to reflect the mood of the people, but then as elected representatives, they must not only reflect the mood, but also mould it giving a lead to the thinking and activities of the people in the right direction[6].”

Parliamentary Ethics

The credibility of Parliament and impeccable integrity of its members are imperative for the success of democracy[7]. The Conference of presiding Officers, Chief Ministers etc. on 25th November 2001, recommended that Code of Conduct may be suitably incorporated in the Rules of Procedure and conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha so also for the respective Legislative Assemblies. The Committee on Ethics of the 13th Lok Sabha was headed by the late Shri Chandrashekhar, former PM as its Chairman. The Committee thereafter decided to appoint a Sub Committee to deliberate on the issues regarding actions to be taken on the actions recommended by the Committee in their first report. “The Committee are of the considered view that a member’s probity in public life is the fundamental precept upon which rests the credibility of a parliamentary democracy. The Committee also feel that mere framing of rules regarding ethical norms cannot bring about orderly behaviour among members and there is, therefore, an urgent need of the realisation that unruly behaviour by members does not go down well with the general public. Hence, an atmosphere has to be created in which orderly behaviour by the members pays in the long run.”

Parliamentary democracy is the most respected way of governance since the mantle rests upon the elected representatives of the people. As an elected representative of the people, a member of parliament’s status is an exalted one., While privileges are given to members to enable them to perform their Parliamentary duties unfettered, these privileges also entail certain obligations. A dignified conduct is one of the primary obligations of a member of parliament. During the early days of our Parliament, Members of Parliament commanded respect and Houses of Parliament and Legislatures were considered temples of democracy. It is regrettable that this is no longer the position. With corruption rampant among a number of Legislators, their criminal antecedents and unruly behaviour in the house, the reputation of legislators has suffered badly. As a result, the general public has started looking at Legislators with contempt to a certain extent. In short, the credibility of Parliament is also at stake because of the misdoings of a few. Therefore, the need of the hour is to strengthen the credibility, integrity and sense of responsibility of this democratic institution of paramount significance. The time has now come for soul searching by legislatures themselves and introspection. The culture of ethics has to be evolved and the sense of discipline and responsibility should come from within. The process of correction of the present day malaise of disorderliness which has afflicted our political system is to come from within. This is the exact purpose of the introspection by the legislatures themselves. Besides, the very process of introspection would give a message that the legislatures are themselves endeavouring to restore the eroding credibility of our legislative system.

 


[1] Sixty Years of Servicing the Central Legislature, Dr. Subhash C. Kashyap, Lok Sabha Secretariat, 1989 pp 5-6

[2] Excerpted from Ibid. p 10

[3] The Office of the Secretary General, Dr. Subhash C. Kashyap, pg 3 Published under Rule 382 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct  of Business in the Lok Sabha (6th Edn.)

[4] Working of the Lok Sabha Secretariat, p9, Lok Sabha Secretariat New Delhi, 1989

[5] From Ibid, pp11-12

[6] “Fifty Years of Indian Parliament”, Ed. G. C. Malhotra, Lok Sabha Secretariat, 2002 – p 3

[7] Paper on future course of action of the committee on ethics for consideration of the sub-committee, Shri V. M. Sudheeran, M.P., Second report of the Committee on Ethics (Thirteenth Lok Sabha), Lok Sabha Secretariat, New Delhi 2002