Winter session of parliament which began on Monday 29 November witnessed repeat of getting Bills passed with no discussion what so ever as in the case of the withdrawal of contentious three farm laws the same way they were passed two years ago. Also, suspension of some members from the House for a week. And, press reporters were kept out from the Galleries despite assurance otherwise and for consecutive fifth session. Of course, the trend of getting Bills passed with no debate in the Parliament has now become routine, including on contentious issues involving large section of people. Even the parliamentary committees are bypassed recently with no benefit of a bipartisan view of the Bills.
Thanks to CJI
Against such a trend, The Nation should be thankful to the Chief Justice of India for reminding the implications of decline in debate in the country including in the parliament. Many Judges of Supreme Court earlier over the years pointed the significance of discourse and debates for sustaining participatory democracy and even some judgements reiterate that provision in the constitution. There are also independent studies which time to time have been reminding that fact. One of the variables for India figuring disappointingly low in the global ranking of democracies is this trend of public debates, including in the Legislatures. On the Constitution Day function of Supreme Court’s Bar Association on November 26, the CJI expressed his concern for the “sorry state of affairs” as a result of absence of “quality debate” in passing the laws. He had even pointed that as a result the laws are “unclear, increasing the burden of the courts”. He reflected the views of commoners as well as those of well-informed public.
Concern of the floor leaders
What should be perturbing is that floor leaders in Rajya Sabha in the pre-session meet on Sunday expressed concern over CJI’s remarks on disruptions and lack of debate in the parliament. They wondered why CJI made such remarks when it is for the presiding officers to take appropriate action and viewed that “other even constitutional agencies should not comment adversely” on the functioning of the House. Not sure of such sentiments by any sensible members, I verified the veracity of news media reports in this regard. Such views of members of Rajya Sabha are intriguing because the entire nation knows as they have been witnessing for some time now what is happening in both the Houses of Parliament. 70 percent of the functional time of the house, for example, according to RajyaSabha’s own analysis, was lost due to persistent disruptions. Even this Monday that was what had happened.
Vice President and chairman of Rajya Sabha saved the situation in that pre-
session Sunday meet taking a graceful stand. For, he had the reputation until recently of conducting the House taking along all sections and for some decency in the proceedings, by taking a stern stand and a motivating view of extreme situation in that meet of floor leaders. He said such views of CJI “should be viewed in the context of functioning of the legislatures marked by persistent disruptions, unruly behaviour and violent actions which have deleterious effects”. “The best way to counter them is to ensure proper functioning of the legislatures by ensuring their dignity and decorum since such comments are finding resonance with public from what they see about functioning of the legislatures”, the chairman said.
Four critical issues
Four critical issues arise out of this situation exposing audacity of some floor leaders in a formal pre-session meet about Chief Justice’s remarks on the Constitution Day function of Bar Association. The first, do these MPs think that there is no need for a debate in the Parliament even on the Bills proposing a legislation, contentious or otherwise. If Bills are not referred to a Parliamentary Committees and even deprived of a debate in the House, can we describe ourselves as a Parliamentary Democracy? Despite consequences of Acts without deliberation of pros and cons, it amounts blatant ignore of a core function of the Parliament. The second, are the legislators above questioning by any, including constitutional functionaries. When the news media and citizens could question on the functioning and performance of legislators, individually and collectively any time, why not the constitution authorities which are expected as a part of their responsibility? Third, who should question when things to do with elected bodies on a tenure are in a “sorry state of affairs”? Who should ring the bell? While the media is no longer taken as independent or seriously, the civic society voices are under threat. Fourth, it boils down that some or many of the elected reps do not have respect for the basic tenets of the Constitution. It appears as if concern for democratic traditions is perhaps thing of the past. An understanding of “checks and balances” which is the fundamental bedrock too is not evident even among “elders” and wise men in the two Houses of the Parliament. Yes, both the CJI and the floor leaders of Rajya Sabha should be thanked for reminding the nation of the sorry state of affairs that the Nation is in.
Lacking in basic understanding of constitution
That the legislators today lack in basic understanding and appreciation of fundamentals of the constitution is too oblivious, including those of “house of elders”. Can we afford to ignore this sorry state? The Government, the Election Commission of India and more importantly the political parties should be concerned about such a situation and include that as part of pre-qualification of their nominees. The situation reminds that the kind of orientation being given to new members on being elected or nominated is insufficient as it is more about benefits they are entitled to and how their presence in the House be marked. Not so much on fundamentals of the Constitution like checks and balances, “free and fairness” of elections, etc. discussions among members themselves with a moderator on these basics during first month or two about the ambiguities in particular helps a lot. In fact, such discussion each time a legislative bill is under consideration is desirable. This betters quality of debates, improves relations between parties and of the outcome. The one reason for many Acts not making much difference on ground and helplessness of MPs and MLAs, is there was never such discourse in the parliament to enhance their mutual understandings. Lack of minimum expected debate is also causing too many legal cases in courts against such hurried Acts. And, amendments are sought too soon. If such a situation continues when our legislatures are going to be concerned about the realities on ground? My recent books offer way out of the dilemma the country is in today. These books include“Good Governance”, “Rejuvenating the Republic”, The Third Eye of Governance” and “The Next Big Game Changer of Elections in India”.
(Dr NBhaskaraRao is a Delhi based public policy analyst of long standing)