Article 75 of the Constitution speaks about the collective responsibility of the council of ministers to the House of the People, i.e. the Lok Sabha. Executive accountability to the legislature is the essence of a parliamentary system of government. Since we follow the Westminster system where the ministry can remain in office only so long as it enjoys the confidence of the elected House, the Constitution incorporates the collective responsibility provision.
This provision implies that the Lok Sabha has the right to remove a government from office through a vote. This right is exercised by the House through a no-confidence motion.
The Indian parliament is at present passing through very uncertain times. Because of constant ruckus, no discussion or debate is taking place. Although financial business and some crucial Bills have been passed in the din, it can be only said in a technical sense that Parliament has passed these. The recurring disorder in Parliament has become a crisis which is beginning to raise serious questions about the credibility of this institution.
This disorder has even affected the notices for a no-confidence motion by members of the two Andhra parties — the Telugu Desam Party and the YSR Congress. Media reports suggest that the Speaker has refused to take it up on the ground that there is no order in the House.
So let us take a close look at the rules of the House in order to understand the situation better. Rule 198 in the Rule Book deals with ‘motion of no-confidence in Council of Ministers’. It states two things about what a House member who wants to move a no-confidence motion is required to do: he/she should give notice of the motion to the “Secretary General of the House by 10.00 hours” on that day and should ask for leave of the House to make the motion “when called by the Speaker”.
The rest is done by the Speaker who has to satisfy him/herself that the motion is in order, which only means that the motion is fully in accordance with the rules. Thereafter, the Speaker reads the motion to the House and requests “members who are in favour of leave being granted to rise in their places”. If 50 members stand, the speaker will declare that leave is granted. Once leave is granted, the Speaker will fix the date for debating the motion.
The rules provide a 10-day period within which to debate the motion and to take a vote on it.
No-confidence motion has its genesis in Article 75 of the Constitution. It is, therefore, a constitutional right of a member of the House to move a no-confidence motion against the council of ministers.
It can be seen from the rules that the Speaker has not been given the power to admit or disallow this motion, she/he has to merely form an opinion that the motion is in order. The leave to move the motion is granted by the House and not by the Speaker. This is the specialty of the no-confidence motion. Every other business needs to be admitted by the Speaker before it is brought before the House.
The Speaker has a substantial measure of discretion in admitting matters. The no-confidence motion is an exception for a very valid reason, namely, that the constitutional right of a member of the House to move this motion cannot be subjected to the discretion of the Speaker. The natural corollary of this constitutional position is that the Speaker is duty bound to set the whole process in motion immediately upon receiving notice of the no-confidence motion. All precedents starting from the first no-confidence motion support this.
It is very rare that a no-confidence motion faces such uncertainty. The practice followed hitherto has been to give top priority to this motion. As a matter of fact, the government would temporarily suspend all policy decisions till the motion is disposed of. On most occasions, one can recall that the government would come forward and demand that the debate begins without any delay. Usually, the government would do its best to effectively counter the attack from the opposition.
A non-functional parliament is a symbol of the bankruptcy of the political class. The parliamentary system should be utilised in full to meet the aspirations of the citizens. The system has been designed to provide knowledge of the complexities of the governmental functioning, national and global affairs and above all, to create a national perspective in our legislators.
A simple question asked in parliament would bring a flood of information about various aspects of governance. The committee system exposes the MPs to the realities of the functioning of the government in multiple ways. The various procedural devices can be used effectively to keep the government of the day on tenterhooks and ensure their accountability.
All great parliamentarians of the past had reached great heights in their career not by raising slogans or creating pandemonium in the House, but by spending hours in the library before coming to the House. Their speeches would carry the stamp of painstaking research and brilliant oratorical skill. The great stalwarts who adorned the benches in the Houses of parliament made this institution strong and vibrant.
Prime Minister Nehru used to attend the Question Hour every day and occasionally stand up and supplement the answers given by his ministers. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a young parliamentarian in the 1950s, would elevate the House to a higher plane with his sophisticated oratory much to the delight of Nehru.
Professor Hiren Mukherjee, Shyam Nandan Mishra, V.K. Krishna Menon, Barrister Nath Pai, Hari Vishnu Kamath, Indrajit Gupta, Madhu Limaye, A. K. Gopalan, Shripad Amrit Dange, V.M. Dandekar and many others have left their indelible imprint on our parliamentary debates. The new generation of parliamentarians thus owes it to this nation to carry forward this rich legacy.
P.D.T. Achary was formerly the secretary general of the Lok Sabha.