[Model Answer QP2021 GS2] To what extent, in your view, the Parliament can ensure accountability of the executive in India?

Collective Responsibility is the bedrock principle of parliamentary government. The ministers are collectively responsible to the Parliament in general and to the Lok Sabha in particular (Article 75).

The mechanisms for ensuring accountability are primarily through question hour, debates, resolutions, no-confidence motions, and budget approvals.

Mechanisms of Parliamentary control over the Executive: 

1. Question Hour and Zero Hour: The ‘Question Hour’ is a dedicated time in the Parliament’s schedule, typically the first hour of a parliamentary sitting, during which MPs can question ministers. ‘Zero Hour’ is a time immediately following the ‘Question Hour’, during which MPs can raise matters of great importance without any prior notice.  During the 2019 winter session of Parliament, over 20 questions were raised each day during the Question Hour in the Lok Sabha.

2. Parliamentary Committees: A significant work of the Parliament is done through various committees like the Public Accounts Committee, Estimates Committee, and Departmentally Related Standing Committees. These committees scrutinize the work of the executive in detail and present their reports to the Parliament. For example, the Departmentally Related Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare, in its 115th report on the functioning of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization, made several recommendations for improvements. The committee’s findings played a critical role in the subsequent amendments to the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules in 2018.

3. No-Confidence Motion: In extreme situations, the Parliament can also move a ‘No-Confidence Motion’ against the government. If the motion is passed, it leads to the resignation of the government. For instance, the government led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999, had to resign after losing a no-confidence motion by a single vote.

4. Budget Approval: One of the most important roles of the Parliament is to discuss and approve the budget presented by the government. Through this process, the Parliament can scrutinize government spending and ensure financial accountability. For instance, there was considerable discussion on healthcare allocation in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

5. Adjournment Motion and Calling Attention Motion: These are other tools through which the MPs can draw attention to the actions of the executive and seek responses. For instance, in the monsoon session of Parliament in 2021, a Calling Attention motion was moved on the issue of Pegasus Spyware, demanding answers from the government.

Parliament less effective on controlling the executive:

1. Parliamentary Disruption: For example, disruptions in parliamentary proceedings have been a frequent issue – as per PRS Legislative Research, the productivity of the Lok Sabha in the Budget Session 2021 was 114% while that of the Rajya Sabha was only 90%, implying that some scheduled business could not be carried out due to disruptions.

2. Overlooking Parliamentary committees and discussions in the house:  This was seen in the passage of several bills in the 2019-2021 period, where despite opposition, the bills were passed owing to the majority the ruling party enjoys in the Parliament.

3. The anti-defection law and the role of party whips: the use of party whips can sometimes limit extensive scrutiny of executive actions.
Strengthening parliamentary procedures, enhancing the research support for MPs, and promoting a culture of constructive debate and discussion could further enhance the Parliament’s role in ensuring executive accountability.

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