In a parliamentary democracy, the executive is drawn from the party or a coalition of parties that has a majority in Lok-Sabha. It is not difficult for the executive to exercise unlimited and arbitrary powers with the support of the majority party. In such a situation, parliamentary democracy may slip into Cabinet dictatorship, where the Cabinet leads and the House merely follows. Only if the Parliament is active and vigilant, can it keep regular and effective check on the executive. There are many ways in which the Parliament can control the executive. But basic to them all is the power and freedom of the legislators as people’s representatives to work effectively and fearlessly. For instance, no action can be taken against a member for whatever the member may have said in the legislature. This is known as parliamentary privilege. The presiding officer of the legislature has the final powers in deciding matters of breach of privilege. The main purpose of such privilege is to enable the members of the legislature to represent the people and exercise effective control over the executive.
(i) Instruments of Parliamentary Control
The legislature in parliamentary system ensures executive accountability at various stages: policy making, implementation of law or policy and during and post implementation stage. The legislature does this through the use of a variety of devices:
Deliberation and discussion: During the law making process, member soft he legislature get an opportunity to deliberate on the policy direction of the executive and the ways in which policies are implemented. Apart from deliberating on bills, control may also be exercised during the general discussions in the House. The Question Hour, which is held every day during the sessions of Parliament, where Ministers have to respond to searching questions raised by the members; Zero Hour where members are free to raise any matter that they think is important (though the ministers are not bound to reply), half-an- hour discussion on matters of public importance, adjournment motion etc. are some instruments of exercising control.
Perhaps the question hour is the most effective method of keeping vigil on the executive and the administrative agencies of the government. Members of Parliament have shown great interest in question hour and maximum attendance is recorded during this time. Most of the question aims at eliciting information from the government on issues of public interest such as, price rise, availability of food grains, atrocities on weaker sections of the society, riots, black-marketing etc. This gives the members an opportunity to criticize the government, and represent the problems of their constituencies. The discussions during the question hour are so heated that it is not uncommon to see members raise their voice, walk to the well of the house or walk out in protest to make their point. This results in considerable loss of legislative time. At the same time, we must remember that many of these actions are political techniques to gain concessions from government and in the process force executive accountability.
Approval and ratification of laws: Parliamentary control is also exercised through its power of ratification. A bill can become a law only with the approval of the Parliament. A government that has the support of a disciplined majority may not find it difficult to get the approval of the Legislature. Such approvals however, cannot be taken for granted. They are the products of intense bargaining and negotiations amongst the members of ruling party or coalition of parties and even government and opposition. If the government has majority in Lok-Sabha but not in the Rajya Sabha, as has happened during the Janata Party rule in 1977 and N.D.A. rule in 2000, the government will be forced to make substantial concessions to gain the approval of both the Houses. Many bills, such as the Lok Pal Bill have failed enactment, Prevention of Terrorism bill (2002) was rejected by the Rajya Sabha.
Financial control: As mentioned earlier, financial resources to implement the programmes of the government are granted through the budget. Preparation and presentation of budget for the approval of the legislature is constitutional obligation of the government. This obligation allows the legislature to exercise control over the purse strings of the government. The legislature may refuse to grant resources to the government. This seldom happens because the government ordinarily enjoys support of the majority in the parliamentary system. Nevertheless, before granting money the Lok-Sabha can discuss the reasons for which the government requires money. It can enquire into cases of misuse of funds on the basis of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and Public Accounts committees. But the legislative control is not only aimed at financial propriety. The legislature is concerned about the policies of the government that are reflected in the budget. Through financial control, the legislature controls the policy of the government.
No Confidence Motion: The most powerful weapon that enables the Parliament to ensure executive accountability is the non-confidence motion. As long as the government has the support of its party or coalition of parties that have a majority in the Lok-Sabha, the power of the House to dismiss the government is fictional rather that real. However, after 1989, several governments have been forced to resign due to lack of confidence of the house. Each of these governments lost the confidence of the Lok-Sabha because they failed to retain the support of their coalition partners.
Thus, the Parliament can effectively control the executive and ensure a more responsive government. It is however important for this purpose, that there is adequate time at the disposal of the House, the members are interested in discussion and participate effectively and there is willingness to compromise amongst the government and the opposition. In the two decades, there has been a gradual decline in sessions of the Lok-Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies and time spent on debates. Moreover, the Houses of the Parliament have been plagued by absence of quorum, boycott of sessions by members of opposition which deprive the house the power to control the executive through discussion.