WHO said there are no free lunches; our parliament is living example of it!

With the Parliament set to resume its monsoon session by the next fortnight, the media would have a new series of pandemonium after the one which just got over with the election of our first woman President. Well, if not anyone else, at least the electronic media would find it delicious fodder, as their crew would ceremoniously wait outside the Parliament to capture ‘that’ moment whereby some non-descript Minister of some worse non-descript Ministry (we had around 53 Ministries, till the last count!) or a Member of Parliament pops out. What follows is a volley of rhetoric, from both sides, relating to topical issues pertaining to the nation. Well the honourable Parliamentarians cannot solely be blamed for such rhetoric as after a ‘consuming’ session, they are often too engaged with the thought of eating delicacies steaming in the highly subsidised Parliament canteen or cooling heels in the luxury of the opulence that the government has provided them for being the elected or selected representatives of the country. Of course, what can be a better way to have heated discussions over the nation’s poverty, malnourished millions and lack of access to social basics than while being a ruminating connoisseur to freshly cooked chicken leg pieces; and that too at throwaway prices?! So welcome to the Parliament of the world’s largest democracy, as well as one of the most flawed democracies (taking into reference the research of ‘The Economist’, which lists India as one of the 54 flawed democracies of the world). In fact, one doesn’t need to step into the vicinity of the Parliament to find out why it has been put in that bracket. Probably there’s no other Parliament in the world like the Indian Parliament that shows so much profligacy while debating supremely critical national issues. As per the Citizen’s Report on Governance and Development 2007, compiled by the India Chapter of the Social Watch Coalition, it is estimated that the loss to the exchequer is nearly Rs.20,000 for every minute that is lost during the Parliament sessions. In terms of percentage, the extent of loss – which was a mere 5.28% of the total session time till 1998 – increased to more than 10% in the 12th Lok Sabha and has now reached an alarming level of 22.4%. This apart, probably nowhere in the world are people convicted or charge-sheeted with murders, rape, robbery, and corruption and even anti-national activities inducted into the highest seats of democracy; and on top of it gifted the audacity to blatantly waste time over niggling discussions and exchange of chosen ornamental vocabulary. It isn’t that the party in power is guilty of such inductions and that the opposition clamouring for accountability is any more pious – both are equally guilty. But it is incredible that a record 38% of time has been lost in the first and the second session of the 14th Lok Sabha. Incidentally, the situation in Rajya Sabha or the Upper House is even worse. The Citizen’s Report states that in the 201st and the 202nd sessions, the Rajya Sabha lost an incredible 46% of time. That apart, the bigger malice is the lack of representation, which is marred by perpetual absenteeism. At any point of time, the incidence of attendance of our honourable Parliamentarians is no more than 60%; and it needs the cracking of a whip to make sure that they remain present at least on the crucial days of voting. The report also states that a mere 173 MPs out of 539 in the Lok Sadha ever opened their mouths or voiced their opinions on matters pertaining to legislative issues. In fact, their level of disinterest on crucial issues has reached such an alarming level that more than 40% of critical bills got passed with less than an hour of debate and with near empty halls. And don’t get surprised if you come across many who are dozing in their seats with utter disinterest in the entire idea of debating for larger interest. All in all, this gargantuan wastage has a huge opportunity cost attached to it. E.g. The opportunity cost of every five minutes of stalled proceedings can fund a primary school somewhere in the country (a school of 30 students per year – as per GIDF calculations). That’s just ‘cost of five minutes saved’; imagine how much can be done even if a day is productively saved! Moreover, the intrinsic value of all the accommodation provided to all the Parliamentarians in the most expensive locales of New Delhi runs in lakhs of crores. Nowhere else in the world are Parliamentarians given such five star accommodation (even in the US, senators have to find accommodation for themselves). Now, consider if we put this huge real estate to judicious use by auctioning it and using the money for nation building. Not only would it help this nation be a much better place to live and, it would also create a formidable foundation in creation of better legislators for the future! Till then, I guess all I need is an MP as a friend for my free lunches, and free accommodation, and siesta times...

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