The Disclosure of Lobbying Activities Bill 2015 (DLA) was introduced before the Parliament to regulate the practice of lobbying in India and to increase transparency in governance. Lobbying refers to a broad range of activities that attempt to influence policymaking. It is used to influence the way a legislator votes on a matter before the House.
It seems quite innocuous as to why the Lobbying bill should not pass the muster. As usual, the intentions are noble. However, we do require a practical understanding of the Indian parliamentary system to understand how often noble intentions have resulted in botched up consequences.
The party whip
Indian parliamentarians vote as per the party whip. If an MP violates his party’s whip, he faces expulsion from the House under the Anti Defection Act.
Now, when a parliamentarian anyways has to vote as per the party’s instructions, how can he be influenced to vote on any matter before the House? What’s the use of lobbying with a person who has to toe the party line?
The tale of 2 bills
The Women’s Reservation Bill is a lapsed bill in the Parliament of India. The Rajya Sabha passed the bill on 9 March 2010. However, the Lok Sabha never voted on the bill. The bill lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.
The 10% quota bill for economically weaker sections was introduced in the Lok Sabha on the last day of the winter session on 8th January 2019 and passed on the same day. The bill got introduced in the Rajya Sabha on 9th January 2019. The session was extended by one day, and again the bill was passed on the same day.
What amount of lobbying would get the women’s reservation bill passed? What amount of lobbying would have affected the passage of 10% quota bill? The answer is that lobbying has had no role to play in the fate of these 2 bills and the same applies to other bills as well.
Private member’s bill
Of the 300 odd Private Members’ Bills introduced in the 14th Lok Sabha, barely 4% were discussed; 96% lapsed without even a single debate in the House. I checked the prsindia.org database and could not find any mention of the aforementioned Lobbying Bill.
There does not seem to be any sanctity for the private member’s bills in the Indian parliamentary system. This Lobbying Bill was introduced in 2015 and we are discussing it in 2019.
The functioning of the Parliament
As per data.gov.in, 15th Lok Sabha lost 723.7 hours due to disruptions or forced adjournments. Lok Sabha could sit for only 1249.35 hours. Meaning, it lost 37% of the time.
In the penultimate session of the 16th Lok Sabha, Lok Sabha lost about 60 per cent and Rajya Sabha about 80 per cent of its scheduled time. There is a news report in Times of India dated March 20, 2018 which states productivity in both Houses of Parliament less than 10% of average.
Now, when the parliament itself is dysfunctional resultant from the actions of the parliamentarians, what and whom to lobby with and what for?
The ordinary citizens are never involved in the policy formulation debate. Indian state operates on the high asymmetry of information. There is no input from the Lobbying Bill to make matters more transparent.
The Lobbying Bill surely creates an avenue for the power brokers to legalize their activities and will create career opportunities for the elite middle-men to thrive in the corridors of power.
India has had a surfeit of laws and regulations and this Lobbying Bill will only add to the list, if passed. This Lobbying Bill is not going to help us achieve the objective of bringing honesty and transparency in the conduct of the Indian state and Indian politicians. If they would have wanted to, they could have done so already with so many laws around.
Lobbying Bill amounts to trappings of a first-world country in the dysfunctional parliamentary system of India.