When a bill journeys through parliament, it goes through an elaborate process. What finally emerges from the parliamentary crucible is unassailable.
By Devender Singh
Come every parliament session and the media focus is on the bills to be passed and those that might encounter hurdles. But what are these pieces of legislation that everyone is so focused and concerned about? Where does a bill originate and what happens when it is finally cleared by both houses of parliament. It may be said that the journey of a bill is like the course of a river. Tracing it from the source to its final resolution will give us a glimpse of how, one of the engines that drive democracy, functions.
In a democratic set up, legislation is undoubtedly the most superior of powers vested in our elected leaders. A legislative proposal is brought before parliament in the form of a bill. Constitutionally, bills are classified into money bills, financial bills, ordinary bills and constitution amendment bills. These may be government bills piloted by ministers or private bills sponsored by MPs.
ORIGIN OF BILLS
A legislative proposal is brought before parliament in the form of a bill. Constitutionally, bills are classified into money bills, financial bills, ordinary bills and constitution amendment bills.
Laws are first mentally conceived and later enacted. A government legislative proposal is first mooted by the administrative ministry by working out its political, administrative, financial, economic and social implications. If the bill impinges on the jurisdiction of other ministries, or state government(s), their advice is also obtained. The legal or constitutional aspects of the proposal are examined in consultation with the ministry of law and justice and, if necessary with the attorney-general.
Once the cabinet approves the proposed legislation in principle, the officers concerned in the administrative ministry give their assistance and co-operation and also supplement the information so that the draft bill is as perfect as possible. A bill may have to be drafted several times based on inputs received from stakeholders and domain experts.
Once the draft bill is finalized, it is submitted to the cabinet for its consideration and approval. It, in turn, may ask one of its standing committees or constitute a group of ministers to go into it in detail and report back. Once the bill is finally approved, necessary accompanying details like Statement of Objects and Reasons, Notes on Clauses, a Financial Memorandum if needed, a memorandum explaining the proposals for delegation of legislative powers where delegation is so intended, etc. are prepared and the bill is made complete in all respects before its introduction in parliament.
The administrative ministry sends the approved bill to the secretariat of the House in which it is to be introduced. The bill is carefully scrutinized to ensure that it is complete in all respects, conforms with constitutional provisions and the Rules of Procedure of the House and that its long title, enacting formula, clauses, chapters, marginal headings, accompanying memoranda, etc are in order.
In the final analysis, bills are intended to be debated threadbare in parliament so that all views, counterviews and shades of public opinions find proper vent, and receive due consideration.
The legislative journey then goes through three stages known as Three Readings. The first commences with the seeking of the leave of the House to introduce a bill. A minister has to give seven days notice in writing of his intention to move for leave to introduce the bill. After leave is granted by the House, the bill is introduced, which concludes the First Reading stage of the bill. The Second Reading consists of consideration of the bill in two stages. In the first stage, there is discussion on the underlying principles of the bill when it is open to the House to refer it to a select committee, or a joint committee of two Houses or to the department related standing committee of parliament. A money bill, however, cannot be referred to any committee.
In case the bill is not referred to a committee, the House proceeds with clause by clause consideration of the bill. Amendments can be moved at this stage. Each amendment and each clause is put to the vote of the House. The amendments become part of the bill if they are accepted by a majority of members present and voting. After the clause(s), the schedules, if any, clause one, the Enacting Formula and the long title of the bill have been adopted with or without amendments by the House, the Second Reading is deemed to be over.
At the stage of the Third Reading, the member-in-charge on being called by the Chair moves that the bill (or the bill as amended) be passed. The debate is confined to arguments either in support or rejection of the bill without referring to the details of the bill further than is absolutely necessary. Only formal, verbal or consequential amendments are allowed at this stage. Motions for consideration and passing of the bills are adopted by a simple majority of members present and voting.
After the bill is passed by one House, it is transmitted to the other House for consideration and passing where it goes through the same stages except its introduction. With regard to money bills, the Lok Sabha has the exclusive power to legislate. The Rajya Sabha can only recommend amendments therein and must return such a bill to the Lok Sabha within 14 days from the date of its receipt. It is open to the Lok Sabha to accept or reject any or all the recommendations of the Upper House.
If a bill passed by one House is rejected by the other, or the Houses disagree as to the amendments to be made in the bill, or, more than six months elapse from the date of receipt of the bill by the other House without it being passed by it, the President may call a joint sitting to resolve the deadlock. The bill is deemed to have been passed by both the Houses in the form it is passed by a majority of the total number of members of both the Houses present and voting at the joint sitting (Art. 108). There cannot be a joint sitting on a money bill or a constitution amendment bill. So far, there have been three occasions when bills were considered and passed at the joint sittings of the two Houses (See Box “Bills passed at the joint sitting of both Houses of parliament”).
After a bill has been passed by both Houses, the Secretariat of the House which is last in possession of the bill obtains the assent of the president. After the presidential assent, the bill becomes an act of parliament. In the case of a money bill or a bill passed at a joint sitting of the Houses, the House of the people obtains the assent of the President.
The bill becomes an act only after the President’s assent has been given and comes into force on a date notified by the government or as declared in the act itself. The President can give his assent or withhold assent or return the bill, if it is not a money bill, with a message requesting the Houses to reconsider it. If the Houses pass the bill again with or without amendments, the bill has to be assented to by the President (Art. 111). The President is bound to give his assent to a Constitution Amendment Bill (Art. 368).
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BILL
The legislative proposal initiated by a member other than minister is known as Private Member’s Bill. Such a bill can be introduced in either House by a member provided it is not a money bill. A private member too, has to give notice of a motion for leave to introduce a bill. Once introduced, the order of consideration of Private Members’ Bills is determined by ballot. The existence of private members’ business is based on the parliamentary fiction that all members are alike and that it is the duty of every member to bring his legislative proposals.
However, only 14 bills by private members were enacted between 1952 and 1970. After 1970, no Private Members’ Bill has been enacted. For instance, 343, 327 and 372 Bills were introduced by private members during the 13th, 14th and 15th Lok Sabha respectively but all were talked out. History was recreated when The Rights of Transgendered Persons Bill of DMK MP Tiruchi Shiva was passed by the Rajya Sabha unanimously on April 24, 2015. The bill is now under consideration by the Lok Sabha. Though the bills by private members are “talked out”, that is withdrawn after discussion, nevertheless, the debate creates publicity around the issues, provides opportunities to the backbenchers to rehearse and hone their debating skills. The discussions impact the thinking of the government by highlighting the serious legislative want in the given field. When the government is inert or impervious to public demand, private members can play catalyst by piloting their legislative proposals.
In the final analysis, bills are intended to be debated threadbare in parliament so that all views, counterviews and shades of public opinions find proper vent, and receive due consideration. The objective of structured deliberations and the Three Readings, is to ensure that the piece of legislation that finally emerges from the parliamentary crucible is unassailable. The debates become the possible source of interpretation when the adjudicating authorities gather the intention of the legislature when literal construction is obscure, tolerant to multiple or monstrous construction. However, some bills are passed without discussion, which is unfortunate.
It’s a matter of serious concern when important legislative measures get drowned in the din created by emotive issues. Worse still, on occasions, bills are passed by voice vote without debate, giving short shrift to various stages of the legislative journey of a bill. When bills are passed without debate and the Three Readings the legislative journey becomes reduced to a mere ritual, parliament ceases to be the highest deliberative body of the nation, bringing odium and public distrust. Besides, it fuels public suspicion whether parliament is the real seal and signature of democracy or a mere public stamping place.
Lead photo: UNI