. Disruption is replacing discussion as the foundation of our legislative functioning. The passionate debate that should inform the country is taking place everywhere other than in Parliament.
Lok Sabha has had a simple code of conduct for its MPs since 1952. Earlier, the rules required MPs not to interrupt the speech of others, maintain silence and not obstruct proceedings by hissing or by making commentaries during debates. Newer forms of protest led to the updating of these rules in 1989. Accordingly, members should not shout slogans, display placards, tear away documents in protest, play cassettes or tape recorders in the House. A new rule empowers the Lok Sabha Speaker to suspend MPs obstructing the Houses’ business automatically. The conference also resolved that Parliament should meet for 110 days every year and larger state legislative assemblies for 90 days.
But these suggestions have not been enforced so far. The government decides when Parliament should meet, for how long and plays a significant role in determining what issues the House should discuss. Successive governments have shied away from increasing the working days of Parliament. When a contentious issue crops up, the government dithers on debating it, leading to Opposition MPs violating the conduct rules and disrupting the proceedings of Parliament. Since they have the support of their parties in breaking the rules, the threat of suspension from the House does not deter them.
Breaking this pattern of parliamentary disruptions requires a few changes in the functioning of Parliament. As recommended by the 2001 conference, there should be an increase in the working days of Parliament. Our legislature should meet throughout the year, like parliaments of most developed democracies. But these increased days will not help prevent disruptions if opposition parties don’t have the opportunity to debate and highlight important issues.
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