Friday is the best day of the week, don’t you think? For us pleb human beings & for our elected representatives too. Because every Friday, when the clock strikes 1530 hours, the speaker calls for the commencement of the Private Members’ Business (Henceforth referred to as “Pleb” ).
This is one aspect of the Parliament which has always fascinated me. It happens every Friday (#TGIF) during sessions and, IRL, very few members attend Parliament during this time. It’s called the Private Members’ Business because it’s a chance for MPs to bring in their own bills to their respective house and talk about what their personal concerns are.
So today, one shall go bat-shit crazy about the relevance (or non-relevance) of a Private Members Bill, why it’s ignored like a cow during the ol’ UPA days & how Fridays in Parliament are the best source for comic relief.
Take out the Trash Day
There is a popular episode in The West Wing called “Take out the Trash Day”. In that show, they have depicted that the last day of the Parliamentary year is when the government disposes off a lot of seemingly nonsense legislative business in one go. Within that bulky legislative business is hidden some oh-so-controversial things that the government doesn’t want to drive attention towards. That day everyone is in a festive mood, fewer journalists are watching the proceedings, everyone is going bonkers about the upcoming holidays so nobody stays back to pour over stacks of documents that contain (mostly) boring things.
We have something similar and it’s called the Private Member's Business days. Bills are sometimes suddenly brought in on Fridays and pushed through. To give you a very recent example: The Aadhaar Bill was passed on a Friday during Private Member’s Business hours. Here’s the revised list of Business for Friday, March 11(Scroll to the very bottom of the document). There were just 68 members present in the Lok Sabha that day (I was there & I counted).
Take a look at the revised list of business for Friday, May 6. Just look at the amount of rules and documents that are laid on the table of the house on that day. Some excerpts (because that document looks so complicated and boring):
1) Something something Food Security & Safety Standards Audit Report ... say what?!
2) Give it up for Annual reports & Accounts for Regional Banks ! It just entered the house!!
3) Imposition of Anti-dumping duty on imports of Normal Butanol Alcohol... from specific countries. Fascinating stuff.
Things like these ideally should raise some concerns. At the very least, they should be read and scrutinized. But nobody does. It makes me really uncomfortable and I feel helpless too. Believe you me, I have tried to go through a lot of these documents but it’s such a goddarn painful task to find the interesting things between so much legal language and terminologies.
Majority of the MPs usually go back to their constituencies on Thursday evenings itself. It’s sort of understandable because only the MPs who have presented their own pleb bills are present. They come in with the assumption that their bills are not going to be passed.
What’s a Private Member’s Bill & what what what?
Simply put, Members of Parliament who are not ministers are called… just… members (#plebian) and the bills they bring into the house are called “Private Member’s Bills”. The government bills are presented by ministers of the respective ministry under which the legislation falls (except in some extraordinary cases. *cough* FDI in Politics *cough*). Two and a half hours are to be set aside every Friday during session to introduce, consider and pass (???) these bills.
There is another aspect to Pleb Day called ‘Private Members Resolutions’. Members put in resolutions regarding various subjects and the house ‘resolves’ to do something. It’s basically a statement of intent where the MP who puts in the resolution gets time to speak about the issue.
Only 14 Private Member’s Bills have been passed since Independence
The biggest reason why nobody pays attention to Pleb Day is because the bills are almost never passed.
Last year, on a historic occasion, the Transgender Rights Bill was passedin the Rajya Sabha (More about this in Part 2 of the Pleb Series. There’s an awesome story here). Before this, the last Private Member's Bill passed by parliament was the Supreme Court (Enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction) Bill, 1968, which became an act on August 9, 1970. So it took 45 bloody years for a Pleb bill to pass even one house of Parliament!
Here’s a complete list of the PMBsthat have made it through the Parliament.
Fun Fact: In 1964, Raghunath Singh introduced the Salaries and Allowances of Members of Parliament (Amendment) Bill in the Lok Sabha. It was passed in the same year. The bill aimed to raise the salaries and allowances of members of parliament in order to meet the high cost of living. Also, to provide air travel facilities.
This is relevant because MPs still avail the same air travel facilities. Free flight tickets and all that.
If Pleb Bills don’t get passed, why put in the effort?
There’s a very weird reason behind why MPs put in Pleb Bills. Let me illustrate this through an example.
MP Devji Patel wants cows to be protected and their species to advance further, so he drafts a bill and brings it in the house. The bill gets introduced on a Friday and he gets to speak about it for a few minutes. If the speaker allows it, there will be a full blown discussion in the Lok Sabha on this bill where other members can pitch in and express their 'lou for the gou'. During the discussion, the concerned Ministers will be present. In this case the Agriculture Minister since Animal Husbandry falls under his portfolio.
The singular reason why this bill won’t pass is because it would give out the impression that the government is incompetent, that it needs a pleb to draft a bill to protect cows. The minister might not even do anything about it, but there is a teeny-weeny chance he might! If the member, during his introduction, or through whatever is written in the bill or during the debate in the house, leaves an impression on the Minister then he might be willing to bring in a government bill which covers the aspects of a Pleb bill.
It’s a long shot. It all depends on how receptive the Minister is and how much he/she pays attention to Pleb Bills, but that’s what an MP hopes for.
If the Government doesn't do anything, the the Cows shall Rise .
An Ode to the Pleb
An eMPee, a pleb, a normal, singular entity,
Floating around amongst 750 other pleb entities,
Hoping to get the attention of the Government through a bill.
He spends hours and days and months hunched over a piece of legislation,
Drafts it with his own loving hands,
Does due diligence, consults lawyers,
All the while, a singular thought floating around in his head:
“Oh Minister, oh lord of everything that is lordly, please hear my plea.
I might be a pleb eMPee,
but please please don’t ignore my bill... or me .”
I know. It’s sad. Even if the poor pleb wants to protect cows, punish people for spitting on the street, create a separate state or single-handedly bring in the Uniform Civil Code, the member is putting in a lot of effort to bring these bills into the house. He/she is doing what they think is right and what would benefit the people. But then… you know.
It is really sad indeed.
Why are you sad, boy?
This is what happened during the introduction of a Private Member’s Bill to decriminalize homosexuality. It was presented by Shashi Tharoor in the house and I was so distressed by how so few people care about it. I recorded that horribly sad moment.
The bill was defeated during the introduction stage itself.
No debate, no discussion.
Examples of Pleb Bills
OK. Enough sadness!
In conclusion, I am just going to leave screenshots & photographs of a few bills that have been introduced in the Parliament. As I said in the intro, such fun, much wow.
2) Say "Bharat Mata ki Jai" you plebs! SAY IT!!! No? PRIVATE MEMBERS BILL ACTIVATED!
4) Save homeless peeps ... No. Not all... just the ones near Railway Tracks
OK. So these bills might sound funny but they are interesting too. I like the one about the drones. It's very forward thinking.
In the end, I present to you, the pleb anthem: