The Indian Parliamentarian and Accountability

In many ways, the Parliament is the keystone, the chief flag-bearer of democracy in India.It’s the forum where legislation is enacted, where pressing civic issues are debated and where the government is held accountable. The Parliament, constituted of people’s representatives, directly or indirectly elected, represents the voice of the nation.However, even though the architects of the Indian constitution gave a lot of thought into designing several innovative checks and balances amongst the various government institutions, the Parliament and the Parliamentarians were surprisingly given a lot of leeway.The Parliament functions as one of those institutions that’s accountable neither to the executive nor to the judiciary. And as for the Parliamentarian, the only time they are held accountable is at the end of their 5-yr or 6-yr term when elections come knocking, and even then their performance within the parliament is almost never a voting issue.

The Parliament is in several rudimentary ways a business house, where the daily business is to debate issues and pass legislation after deliberating on the pros/cons.The effectiveness of any business house is ensured by demanding accountability from the corporation as a whole, which in turn is ensured by demanding accountability from every single employee.And this accountability is measured informally on a day-to-day basis, and formally during the annual/bi-annual appraisals.So why should the Parliament be any different? In fact, the accountability demanded from the parliamentarians should be even more stringent, since they are responsible to the whole nation, while a business corporation is accountable only to it’s shareholders.

One of the ways of fixing accountability is by ensuring transparency.On this count, our parliament scores quite well. The daily proceedings and records of the parliament are open to public scrutiny through live telecasts and information published on the parliament’s website. It is also possible to view the record of every individual parliamentarian on these same websites. Although it can be argued that most of the data is in raw form and not entirely suited for direct interpretation by the masses. Apart from transparency, independent monitoring is another way of ensuring transparency.While transparency lays the onus of preparing the report-card on vigilant citizens, monitoring ensures that report-cards are drawn in a professional manner and with authority.

While the Parliament as a institution does have a lot of transparency built in, it’s the individual parliamentarians who are hardly ever held accountable for their functioning and performance in the Parliament. It is in that context that I suggest the following bullet-points for fixing accountability on our parliamentarians.

  • Just like every publicly traded company has to be audited by independent firms on an annual basis, likewise, the parliament too should be monitored by an independent statutory body.
  • The findings of this independent monitoring body should be captured in an annual report and placed in the public knowledge. It should also be adequately broadcast through press conferences and media briefings.This report should be the final word of authority as far as the functioning of the individual parliamentarians are concerned.
  • The suggestions, recommendations and punitive measures contained in the report should be considered as binding on both the houses, and it should be the obligation of the House Speaker to implement the same, probably after due consideration from a Standing Committee.
  • In this age of open governance, it should be made mandatory for every parliamentarian to maintain their personal websites, where they constantly provide updates on the debates they participated in, their opinion on crucial legislations and the manner in which they disbursed of their MPLAD funds.They should be provided with all the support and assistance needed to accomplish the same.
  • Attendance is something which is enforced religiously in our academic and business houses. So why should exceptions be made for our parliamentarians? Monitoring the attendance of individual parliamentarians is not enough. Punitive action should be taken on erring members by means of levying hefty penalty fees.
  • Every election, our politicians do a lot of drum beating on their supposed achievements.Nothing is wrong with this, but no one verifies their statements. So it should be made mandatory for every sitting MP and MLA to submit their individual records on their performance in the parliament and status of their MPLAD-funded projects, along with the affidavit that they currently submit.All these personal statements should be ratified by the Election Commission and any discrepancy should attract punitive action.
  • The same records that are mentioned in the point above should be condensed into pamphlet advertisements and mandatorily distributed in their constituency along with the daily newspaper.

Some of the measures suggested above may be too radical to be implemented. But in these days of adjournments, unruly behaviour, parliament stalling, walkouts staged by opposition,passing of important bills without a reasonable debate,demanding of resignations on smallest of pretexts etc etc, only stringent measures can bring about decorum in the house. While it’s perfectly alright for the parliament to exercise oversight on the functioning of the executive, a breakdown in governance by the executive should not lead to a ripple effect of causing a breakdown in the functioning of the Parliament. Only by demanding accountability from our elected representatives can we ensure that our Parliament functions in the spirit that was conceived by the founders of our constitution. And only by demanding accountability, can we ensure that laws are made to protect the common man and not to protect the tainted politicians and crony capitalists.Only be demanding accountability, can we ensure that landmark reforms such as the Lokpal Bill, Land Acquisition Bill, Representation of the People Bill and the Communal Violence Bill, all see the light of day without being diluted beyond the point of being effective.

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