To what extent, in your view, the Parliament is able to ensure accountability of the executive in India? UPSC 2021, 10 Marks

Q4. आपकी दृष्टि में, भारत में कार्यपालिका की जवाबदेही को निश्चित करने में संसद कहाँ तक समर्थ है? (उत्तर 150 शब्दों में दीजिए)

Q4. To what extent, in your view, the Parliament is able to ensure accountability of the executive in India? (Answer in 150 words) 10

Answer:

In a parliamentary democracy the executive is accountable to Parliament. The Constitution provides for the legislature to make laws, the government to implement laws, and the courts to interpret and enforce these laws.  Therefore, the government is collectively responsible to Parliament for its actions.  This implies that Parliament (i.e. Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) can hold the government accountable for its decisions, and scrutinise its functioning.  This may be done using various methods including, during debates on Bills or issues on the floor of Parliament, by posing questions to ministers during Question Hour, and in parliamentary committees.

There are two broad views about the functions of Parliament vis-a-vis the Executive. The first refers to Parliamentary sovereignty, ministerial responsibility, the parliamentary surveillance. The second refers to the responsibility of the Government, the danger of political interference with civil servants, the importance of debate rather than control.

 

The Indian system represents a real fusion of the highest executive and legislative authorities. The Council of Ministers is the ‘grand executive committee’ of Parliament charged with the responsibility of governance on behalf of the parent body. It is drawn from, and remain a part of the Parliament and is responsible to the Lok Sabha. While the Executive has almost unlimited right to initiate and formulate legislative and financial proposals before Parliament and to give effect to approved policies, unfettered and unhindered by Parliament, Parliament has the unlimited power to call for information, to discuss to scrutinize and to put the seal of approval on the proposals made by the Executive. The Executive (i.e. the political Executive the Council of Ministers) remains responsible and the administration accountable to Parliament. It is the function of Parliament to exercise political and financial control over the Executive and to ensure parliamentary surveillance of administration.Executive responsibility and administrative accountability, are two different functional concepts.

The head of every Government Department is a Minister and Parliament exercises control over the Department through the Minister. A Ministry has practically an autonomous existence of its own and conducts its business in pursuance of statutory provisions, rules and regulations or according to a long-standing practice. The Parliamentary control over the Ministry rests in the fact that any action of the Ministry can be called in question by any Member and the Minister responsible for the administration of that Ministry has to defend the acts of his officials. It is a well-established constitutional principle that a Minister is responsible to Parliament for all the acts of the Ministry and it is he who takes the blame, should Parliament disapprove of any administrative act. Administrative accountability means the accountability of the administration to Parliament. Parliament does not interfere with day to day administration nor does it control administration. Accountability to it is technical and indirect i.e. through the Ministers, and it is ex post facto i.e. after something is done; after action has ended. Also, it has to be based on specific grounds. Under the Indian system, after a policy is laid down, a law is passed or monies are sanctioned, it is administration which is required to execute and implement, Parliament cannot itself administer nor can the Ministers. It is, therefore, the officials and not the Ministers–who have to explain if things go wrong in the process of implementation. 

In a parliamentary polity, Parliament embodies the will of the people and it must, therefore be able to oversee the way in which public policy is carried out so as to ensure that it keeps in step with the objectives of socio-economic progress, efficient administration and the aspirations, of the people as a whole. This, in a nutshell, is the rasion d’etre of parliamentary surveillance of administration. Parliament has to keep a watch over the behaviour of administration. It can enquire and examine ex post facto whether the administration has acted in conformity with its obligations under the approved policies and utilized the powers conferred on it for purposes for which they were intended and whether the monies spent were in accordance with parliamentary sanction. This ensures that the officials function in the healthy awareness that they, would be ultimately subject to parliamentary scrutiny and answerable for what they do or fail to do. But in order to be able to conduct meaningful scrutiny and call the administration to account, Parliament must have the technical resources and information wherewithal.

The various procedural devices like the system of parliamentary Committees; Questions, Calling Attention, Half-an-Hour Discussion, etc. constitute very potent instruments for effecting parliamentary surveillance over administrative action. Significant occasions for review of administration are also provided by the discussions on the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address, the Budget demands and particular aspects of governmental policy or situations. These apart, specific matters may be discussed through motions on matters of urgent public importance, private members’ resolutions and other substantive motions. Government is sensitive to parliamentary opinion; in most cases it anticipates that opinion; in sonic cases it bows to it and in some others it may feel that it cannot make any change consistent with its commitments, obligations arid political philosophy.  It is as well that the parliamentary debates should serve to remind the administration of its duties and obligations. Parliamentary debates affect thinking and action of the administration in the variety of ways and the public influence which cannot be measured in terms of any visible units pervades through all the ranks of administration-high and low. 

Executive or Ministerial responsibility to Parliament or what is often termed parliamentary control over the Executive or the Government is based on-

(i) the constitutional provision of collective responsibility of the Council of Ministers to the popular House of Parliament; and

(ii) the Parliament’s control over the Budget.

In both these matters, parliamentary control over the Executive is political in nature. The answerability of the Executive is direct, continuous, concurrent and day-to-day. When Parliament is sitting, the continuance of the Government in office depends from moment to moment on its retaining the confidence of the House of the People. The House may at any time decide to throw out the Government by a majority vote i.e. if the ruling party loses the support of the majority of the members of the House, its Government goes. No grounds, arguments, proofs or justification are necessary, when the House clearly shows that it does not support the Government of the day, the Government must resign. Want of parliamentary confidence in the Government may be expressed by the House of the People by-

  • passing a substantive motion of no-confidence in
  • defeating the Government on a major issue of policy;
  • to consider the annual reports of the Ministries/Departments and report thereon; and

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