Written by Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Devesh Kapur, it gives you this nice primer on Indian Parliament. It tells you how the system has evolved and changed and gone worse over the years:
This paper examines the institutional challenges facing the Indian Parliament. It argues that over the years there has been a decline in the effectiveness of Parliament as an institution of accountability and oversight. It shows that the instruments that Parliament can use for accountability—motions on the floor, oversight powers, the committee system—are increas-ingly being rendered dysfunctional. The fact that the Indian economy is globalizing has also eroded the power of Parliament in two respects. Much of economic decision making is now increasingly governed by international treaties, and the Indian Parliament is one of the few parliaments in the world that does not have a system of effective treaty oversight in place. These treaties are a fait accompli by the time they come to Parliament. Second, the Indian state, like many other states, is restructuring its regulatory framework with more powers being delegated to non-elected institutions. This process of delegation can increase transparency and accountability, but parliamentary oversight of these institutions remains very weak.
There are many paras in the paper which give you a sense of deja vu. You see those scenes of Parliament disruptions, unruly oppositions etc. The paper tells us why these scenes continue to remain:
The opposition is the constituent part of Parliament that has the most incentive to use the statutory powers of Parliament to keep the government accountable. In general, if the government commands a large share of the seats with unchecked majority control of the legislature, policy outcomes will reflect the government’s position. If the government has relatively fewer seats and the opposition has bargaining resources, then policy making could be shaped by the opposition. The opposition’s ultimate sanctioning weapon is that it might be a credible alternative in the next general election. But it can be argued that in the practice of parliamentary opposition in India, the opposition uses Parliament more to impugn the credibility of governments than to exercise accountability for the sake of good governance. Most commentators on Parliament agree that opposition parties in Parliament are relatively weak at generating accountability of government. This is because of a number of structural reasons.
First, the effectiveness of the opposition simply depends upon the party composition of Parliament. Where governments have a comfortable majority, there is not much that the opposition can do to censure government. Second, opposition parties are unable to generate new information about government activities that can allow them to take the executive to task. Virtually all opposition parties are reactive rather than proactive, reflecting the extreme organizational weakness of Indian political parties (we return to this point later). Third, and unsurprisingly, opposition parties tend to focus on issues judged to have significant immediate political pay-offs rather than on the day-to-day functioning of government.
So what the BJP is doing now, Congress was doing in 1999-04.
In one sense, the incentives for monitoring and oversight of the executive simply do not exist: the effort is high and the potential pay-off limited. Opposition parties are likely, therefore, to focus more of their attention on political scandals such as financial scams and corruption cases, where they can attack individuals rather than try to force institutional and systemic changes. During the tenure of the BJP-led government from 1999 to 2004, the Congress-led opposition used all of its might to stall proceedings on various corruption scandals, but did almost nothing to protest against the systemic governance weaknesses plaguing the country. When the BJP moved into opposition after it lost the elections in 2004, it began to behave exactly as Congress had done. Even with an opposition focused on corruption scandals, Parliament has yielded very few results and almost all of the parliamentary probes into these scandals have led nowhere. While in some cases this was because the evidence was generally inconclusive, in other cases it likely reflects collusion within the political class to avoid institutional changes, which, while improving governance, might adversely affect their common interests.
The paper looks at various checks and balances to keep the Parliament running and be effective. However, most are weak and impose no real discipline on Parliamentarians.
One could go on and discuss every word of the paper. So leaving it to the reader.
The paper was written in 2006. Not sure whether anything would have changed in 6 years.
A nice paper for India optimists and pessimists. Optimists might get a reality check on Indian economy and even get some more ideas on what needs to be fixed. Pessimists will tell you look I told you nothing can really work in India. The more it changes the more it remains the same.
Superb political econ paper..