Maadhyam is an initiative to capture inputs from interested stakeholders and use them for policy making with the aid of technology. The vision is to make policy making a more participatory process. To this end Maadhyam will establish a digital platform acting as a bridge between policy stakeholders and enabling flow of communication and feedback. Right now in its concept stage, Maadhyam will launch a series of experiments to gauge the interest of people to engage in policy making.
Few Bills have been identified which are most likely to be discussed in Parliament in the coming session. These Bills will be summarily analyzed and inputs will be invited from interested stakeholders. These inputs will be collated and circulated to Members of Parliament who have shown an interest in being a part of this initiative. It is hoped that these inputs will improve and add to the policy making process.
The first Bill to be taken up in this series was the Mental Healthcare Bill, 2016. Read the analysis here. The second Bill to be taken up in this series was the Factories (Amendment) Bill, 2016. Read the analysis here. Watch this space for other initiatives by Maadhyam.
Maadhyam is founded by Maansi Verma, a law graduate from Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi, a Young India Fellow and a LAMP Fellow. She currently works as a Legislative and Policy Analyst.
Introduction to Parliamentary Debates
Parliament is a forum for debate. It reflects the urgency of our times and the moods of our generations. Take for instance the following debates and their setting in the overall political situation in the country –
- A man is beaten to death allegedly for consuming beef – Parliament debates ‘intolerance’
- Students of a University are arrested for being anti-national, another student commits suicide in the face of caste based discrimination – Parliament debates freedom of speech and interference of Ministry in university administration
- Farmer suicides on an all-time high – Parliament debates droughts and farmer suicides
- Rampant atrocities on Dalits – Parliament debates conditions of Dalits in the country
- Kashmir comes to a standstill – Parliament debates response of government to the Kashmir situation.
Are these debates any useful?
One example comes to mind. In the Monsoon Session of Parliament, Rajya Sabha itself discussed the turmoil in Kashmir twice. The issues discussed ranged from – persistent curfew, excesses by the police and armed forces, absence of a mechanism to engage in dialogue, use of pellet guns and the horrific injuries they caused, role of Pakistan in creating the tension in the valley etc.
The debate resulted in government calling an All-Party Meeting to try to chalk out a strategy to better deal with the situation. An All-Party delegation from Delhi also visited Kashmir and tried to engage in a dialogue with the stakeholders including with the separatist leaders. But one of the most significant outcomes of the debate was that the government was forced to set up a committee to find less lethal alternatives to pellet guns which caused indiscriminate injuries not just to protesters but also to by-standers. Finally the government approved usage of chilli-filled shells and directed that pellet guns be used only in rarest of rare cases.
Parliamentary debates, therefore, can be an effective medium to seek accountability, demand action and voice legitimate criticism. The opposition might be disruptive at times which is a political tool used to corner the government, but the opposition has similarly lapped up opportunities to pressurize the government through these debates.
Different forms of debates
Not every issue might concern the entire House as they may be local and domain specific and not every issue could be discussed for hours. Therefore the Parliamentary debates provide for different formats for different requirements:-
- Zero Hour – usually reserved for very recent matters, something which happened just a day or two or a week ago. An hour is dedicated to bring such matters to the notice of government every day and every MP gets on an average 3 minutes to speak on the issue. MPs usually pick up issues from their constituencies or states or something which aligns with their area of interest. For instance – one MP from Maharashtra raised the issue of a cobbler picked up from a local train station by police and later found dead in custody highlighting how custodial deaths were still prevalent. Issues like these may not get adequate attention in national media and Parliament thus helps bring these issues to light. On some pertinent issues, House demands that the Minister reply.
- Special Mention – These issues are more action oriented and are raised very briefly. MPs have to confine their speeches on these issues to 250 words (in Rajya Sabha). The issues raised can be recent or persistent, something which has been demanding attention and resolution for several years. For instance – on the eve of Bhopal Gas Disaster anniversary, one MP raised the issue that victims are still fighting for adequate compensation and toxic waste at the site is yet to be disposed off properly. Ministers are usually expected to examine the issues and send an action taken or proposed to be taken report to the MP who raised the issue.
- Calling Attention – This discussion starts with calling the attention of a Minister on a particular issue, something recent and of particular importance. The Minister submits a response to the issue in the House and then several MPs ask further questions on that response or raise concerns not addressed in that response or otherwise comment on the response highlighting the positives and negatives. Issues are more broad based and something which concern several states. For example – attack on people involved in transporting cattle and what the Ministry was doing to protect them was raised by one MP and several MPs participated in that debate. These discussions usually last for an hour.
- Short Duration Discussion – All the examples given in the Introduction paragraph were short duration discussions, supposed to last for 2.5 hours but usually going up to 4-5 hours. Issues discussed are of national importance and several MPs from all parties get a chance to participate. The debate is a mix of political rhetoric and concrete policy issues and solutions. Ministers are required to respond to the issues raised in the House with comprehensive policy actions.
Set the Agenda for debates
What will the Parliament debate this time? We will know in due course.
What should the Parliament debate this time? Maybe Indo-Pak relations. It is a fact that India-Pakistan relations are at an all-time low and in the recent past we have witnessed all sorts of military and diplomatic tussles. Where is this relation between two nuclear-powered neighbours headed? Does the government have a long-term strategy to maintain peaceful relations with Pakistan or are we going to move from one attack to another? Should this be discussed by the Parliament and answers demanded from the government? Let us know.
Do you want the Parliament to debate on a particular issue? The issue could range from local to national, a one-off grievance to a persistent headache. Set the agenda for debates by recording your inputs here.