A Private Members Bill is a bill introduced by the Member of Parliament who is not a minister i.e., a non-government member is known as the Private Member’s bill. After the bill is proposed and only after all other formalities are done, which are on the lines of a normal government bill, a private member’s bill has a chance of becoming legislation. Till now, in India, only 14 such private members bills have been passed by both the houses of the parliament and became law of the land. The last such Act was The Supreme Court (Enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction) Act,1970 which was passed and made into legislation almost 50 years ago.
Thus, the question which demands our attention now is the status of the private member bills and legislations and whether these bills should be continued or not? The main question in front of us today is that the last private member’s bill was passed in the 1970s, so what is the scope of these bills in the modern majoritarian parliament of India. However, these bills have been continuously raised by various MPs in the Parliament and some have passed in one of the two houses also. This article will try to examine the requirements and status quo of Private Members’ Legislation in India. To understand this issue thoroughly, this article shall first explain the requirement of the Private Members’ Legislation or Bill followed by the status quo and then concluding the way forward.
Generally, a private member’s bill is introduced by the Members of Parliament (MPs) who are not part of the ruling government. However, that is not a mandatory requisite. Any member of the parliament who is not a minister can introduce a private member’s bill which after passing both the houses and attaining the President’s assent becomes a Law.
The main aim and reasoning behind the idea of a private members bill were to make sure that the issues which are not given much importance by the government can still be raised and and discussed in the parliament by the lawmakers. On the other hand, MPs with specific ministries are not the only law-making entities of Parliament but other members who may represent a minority idea or issue is also given a voice.
The first private member’s bill which became the law of the land was the Muslim Wakf Act, 1954 which was introduced in the Parliament by Syed Mohammed Kasmi in the Lok Sabha session. It was aimed to provide better administration and governance to the Wakfs. Some other private member bills that have become law includes the Proceedings of Legislature (Protection of Publication) Bill, 1956, brought by Feroze Gandhi in the Lok Sabha; the Salaries and Allowances of Members of Parliament (Amendment) Bill, 1964, introduced by Raghunath Singh in the Lok Sabha and the Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 1967 introduced by Diwan Chaman Lall in the Rajya Sabha. No Private Member’s Bill has become law after 1970. Till date, only 14 such bills have become legislation, six of which were passed in 1956. The selection of these bills for discussion is done through the ballot.
Private members' bills can be introduced in either house and they go through almost the same process as does a government bill do. Three stages are followed in this process, the first is the introduction, the second is a clause by clause reading and the third is the passage. Even if a Private member's bill does not make it to the 2nd and 3rd stage, as soon as the bill passes the first stage, the bill is recorded and entered into the official record of the Parliament and the MP can take credit. The Private members' bills are read on Friday.
The current status of the Private Member’s Legislation is not in a situation where it should be. This is evident from the fact that in the long history of 72 years after independence, only 14 of such bills have passed and made into acts. The Track Record of the Private Members Bill is not good as can be seen below also. Bills introduced are rarely passed and bills passed face more problems in the next phases such as the house other than the one from which it is passed, change of Parliament Session, various problems with the MP who introduced the bill in the first place which includes but are not limited to the personal political affiliation of the MPs, the will power of the MPs to go on with the whole process of the bill, the resources at the MPs disposal, the political situation in the country, etc.
However, even after getting rejected, the Private Member’s bill does one of their main tasks i.e., of raising awareness in the general people. One of the prime examples of this is the Private Member’s bill introduced by Mr. Shashi Tharoor, MP from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. Through such bills, Mr. Tharoor has raised his voices over important issues which are core to the Indian system. Some of his most prominent Private Members Bills are:
Bill to De-criminalize Homosexuality.
Bill to constitute Marital Rape as Crime.
Bill to Regulate online gaming.
Some of the Other Prominent Private Members Bills raised in the Lok Sabha by other MPs are:
Dropping of Article 44 of the Directive Principals of State Policy.
Changes in the Indian Election System.
Cheaper Student Loans.
Permanent employment for Aganwadi or Rural Child Care worker.
Timely wages to Tea Garden workers.
Playing Sport as a Fundamental Right.
Revocation of Article 370 of the Constitution.
Bill to Ban Office emails after work hours.
However, the majority of these bills are not even discussed. The various reasons as to why a private members bill does not become law are:
The bills are already voted out by the other MPs before the first stage.
The particular session of the Parliament is over.
The bill is passed in one house but is stopped in another.
The bill gets stopped by the ruling party because of ideological reasons.
The bill is not clear or the aim of the bill is not clear.
The other MPs don’t clearly understand the agenda of the bill.
The Parliament has a majority ruling government that dismisses the bill even before it could be read.
In other Common Law countries where the Westminster system is present and where MPs raise private member's bills in the parliament the situation is typically the same as in India, except for a couple of countries such as the United Kingdom. In Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Norway, Ireland numerous private member bills were discussed and passed till the 1970s, however lately the situation is not the same and private member bills are on the decline. On the other hand, the United Kingdom continues to have numerous private members bill becoming legislation.
Just like most of the problems that are associated with the Indian governmental structure, this problem can also be solved through participation and understanding of the parliamentarian system by the general people.
Some Recommendations for improvement in the Private Members' bill scenarios in India are:
More Understanding of the General People: There could be an improvement if the general public becomes more aware and responsible regarding their voting powers. Citizens should ask their respective Members of Parliament to raise important and local issues in the parliament, and if the situation arises, raise questions about them and if needed a “Private Members Bill” could also be introduced. If in case the particular MP does not raise local issues in the parliament then the people themselves must take it up to them, to not vote for the person in the next election.
Member of Parliament Self Understanding: The MPs need to understand that when they go to the Parliament, they represent not the party from which they have been selected, but the constituency and people from where they come. All MPs have a special responsibility and a legal duty to raise their voice in the form of questions and Private members bill in the Parliament for their constituency.
Special Hour or Day: A Special Hour, Day or Week should be assigned by the Parliament for the discussion of the Private Members Bill in the Parliament. We already have Friday as a pre-decided time for a Private Members bill however there is still a need for more. This way the Private members' bill will not go straight into vain without a single discussion but would end up achieving one of its main goals of raising general awareness in the people. Along with that, all Private members' bills should at least be discussed once before they are voted on by the MPs.
Specific Research unit: A Specific research unit should be created by the Parliament to help MPs who are interested in raising Private Members Bills in the Parliament. The aim of this Unit should be to make sure that MPs are provided with enough help and other resources so that they then easily draft a good bill with a clear agenda, aim, and goals.
Mandatory Requirement: All MPs should be given a mandatory requirement to raise at least one Private Member’s Bill in the Parliament about a local or a regional issue particular to their constituency. Moreover, every MPs should have a mandatory requirement to raise a minimum of one Private Member’s Bill on the issue of National Importance during their term at the office.
Mandatory Hearing: All Private Members Bill should be mandatorily heard before they are dismissed by the Parliament. At the very least a basic understanding of the bill proposed should be done.
In a Democracy, all voices should be heard and to ensure the same, the facility of Private Member Bill is present in the Westminster System. In the Westminster system where most bills are introduced by the Government and are subsequently termed as government bills, private member bills are an important exception. They are generally introduced by non-ministerial MPs with the main idea of raising important issues which are not part of the ruling party’s agenda. The foremost Westminster system i.e., the parliament of the United Kingdom has a long-term history of enacting private members’ bills. On the contrary, the parliament of the Republic of Ireland rarely passes any private member’s bill.
After Independence India adopted the Westminster system and its practices which includes the Private Members’ bill practice and in the first 20 years of the republic, these bills were a success. However, the same is not the case for the last 50 years but still the provision and power to introduce private members' bill exists.
Nowadays these bills in the Parliament of India are just “an academic exercise” for the MPs. The majority of these bills are not even discussed in the parliament but are rejected on the forefront themselves, this is something that needs to change in the Indian system. Accordingly, these bills should be given more time on the floor for discussion as they may not represent the majority opinion, however, these bills are an important connecting tool between the government and the opposition. These bills show the government that the government is not working as it should on these particular issues & areas of concern and that there is a common if not urgent need to hear and discuss these issues in the parliament whether through the form of private members bills or normal debate format.
The main thing to be taken into account about the private members' bill is that these bills are often a representation of the MPs personal ideological beliefs which mostly doesn’t match with the rest of the diversity we have in the parliament. However, this was not the case when we look at the 14 private member’s bills that have been passed. Majority of the Parliament supported the belief of those bills, some of which includes The Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Declaration of National Importance) Bill introduced by Raghubir Sinha in Rajya Sabha and The SC (enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction) Bill introduced by Anand Narain in Lok Sabha. However, the bills nowadays are more than often related to the particular ideologies of an MP which majorly isn’t aligned with the rest of the parliament. For example, the De-Criminalization of Homosexuality bill by Shashi Tharoor, which was although a very good initiative and something which the Supreme Court itself did, was not in a similar ideological structure with the rest of the Conservative Majority in the Parliament.
Therefore, concludingly it would be correct to state that the current Private member's bill is a mere awareness-raising tool and does not serve any other purpose.
Gandhi Ji when started the Independence movement in 1915, stated that this independence struggle in India will only be completed when all the common people of India stood up and raised their voice. That is the same reason that when India finally gained independence it was with the combined efforts of all Indians.
The same is the situation now, Member of Parliament would only raise more important issues in the parliament through their questions and private members bill when the people make them ask questions and raise queries, otherwise, the system which has continued for the past 70 years would continue even now on.
BBA LLB (2019-2024)
Symbiosis Law School, Pune