Disdain for Parliament

The Monsoon session reflected a dysfunctional and increasingly irrelevant Parliament and the Government’s utter contempt for the institution

Disdain for Parliament

AJ Prabal

The Monsoon session of Parliament (July 19-August 11) has left a bitter aftertaste. While Parliament’s disconnect with the people has been increasing over the past several decades, the present Government’s pronounced disdain for Parliament and the Prime Minister’s contemptuous treatment of the institution have created a stalemate. Amusingly, both the Government and the opposition profess to be unhappy at the disruptions in Parliament.

The Prime Minister, alleged Rajya Sabha Member Derek O’Brien, had spent all of six minutes in Parliament during the monsoon session although he had ‘spoken’ for over 11 hours at election meetings in West Bengal. Even if ‘six minutes’ jibe is an exaggeration, the Prime Minister has indeed been conspicuous by his absence. While he does seem to have enough time to felicitate Olympic medal winners and to watch them in action, to deliver his radio talks and spend 90 odd minutes to deliver a long-winded Independence Day speech, his reluctance to even attend Parliament, leave alone answer questions or speak, seems sharply at variance with his determination to have a new Parliament Building to accommodate more MPs.

While Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu cried in the House to voice his anguish at disruptions and the conduct of the opposition, the Government’s business was not hampered. As many as 20 Bills were passed by Parliament during the monsoon session. As many as 15 Bills were introduced, eight of which were not listed for introduction. Two Finance/Appropriation Bills were also passed, both of which were neither planned nor listed. None of the 15 Bills introduced were referred to Parliamentary Standing Committees for scrutiny.

The current Lok Sabha (17th) has so far sent 12% of the Bills for scrutiny to parliamentary committees. The 16th Lok Sabha (2014-19) had forwarded 27% of the Bills to committees while the percentage was 71 percent in the 15th Lok Sabha and 60% in the 14th Lok Sabha.

The Government curtailed Question Hours on the pretext of Covid-19, disallowed discussion on Pegasus on the pretext that it is sub judice (it was a new one as it had never come in the way before) and refused to answer questions on electoral bonds.

The Rajya Sabha TV was accused of exercising pre-censorship and not showing opposition protests in the House. Worse, presiding officers were accused of ignoring the presence of policemen and women in plainclothes forming human shields to prevent opposition MPs from moving inside. PRS Legislative Research reported that the Lok Sabha took an average of 34 minutes to pass the Bills. The Rajya Sabha, it reported, took a little longer at 46 minutes. While O’Brien alleged that the time taken was often less than 10 minutes, even PRS admitted that one of the Bills was passed in less than five minutes.

The Lok Sabha has not elected a Deputy Speaker for the last two years. During the 16th Lok Sabha, this period was 70 days. Previously, this period was the highest during the 12th Lok Sabha (269 days).

PRS reported that the Lok Sabha did not debate any non-legislative issue. Nine minutes were spent discussing and passing the supplementary budget of Rs 23,675 crore (an increase of 0.7% in expenditure over the budget estimate). This amount includes Rs 15,750 crore for the COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Package. Rajya Sabha had only one major debate (non-legislative) on the management of COVID-19 pandemic.

Ordinances promulgated by the Government have become another irritant between the Government and the opposition. While the UPA promulgated 61 ordinances in 10 years, the Modi Government has already promulgated 71 of them in seven years.

There is a complete rupture between the Government and the Opposition, admitted Congress Chief Whip Jairam Ramesh in an interview to Deccan Herald. While most Rajya Sabha chairmen would earlier try to bring about a rapproachement and bring the two sides together, Venkaiah Naidu, he said, tended to add fuel to the fire. “We cannot trust the leader of the House (Piyush Goyal). He says one thing and does something else. Parliamentary Affairs Minister (Pralhad Joshi) is a completely insincere man…,” fumed Ramesh while recalling that the opposition could work with Arun Jaitley, who would keep his word.

Citing another damning experience, Ramesh said that on the last day (August 11) he had gone to the Deputy Chairman (Harivansh) and asked him to withdraw the security, pointing out that the insurance bill had been passed in the din. The Deputy Chairman, he recalled, was willing. The Rajya Sabha Secretary General was willing but the minister Pralhad Joshi, who was also there, said no. “You cannot do business with these people. They are insincere,” he repeated.

Clearly, without debates, deliberations and proper scrutiny, the Government is pushing through bad and incoherent laws. Even the Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana voiced his anguish at the Supreme Court Bar Association’s Independence Day function.

“Now we see legislations with lot of gaps, and lot of ambiguity in making laws; We don’t know for what purpose the laws are being drafted, which is creating a lot of litigation, inconvenience and loss to the government and inconvenience to the public,” he pointed out. Poorly drafted laws have always been a problem in the past but now even the legislative purpose does not seem to be clear either to the Parliament or to the Judiciary.

The CJI pointed out that members of Parliament during the early years after independence were lawyers. “Debates back then were very constructive…I saw the debates and very constructive points were made. Laws were discussed and deliberated. One had a clear picture of the legislative part of the law,” he said before adding, “so the burden of the courts while interpreting or implementing the law was less. The legislative part was clear with respect to what they wanted to tell us. Why they were making such a legislation. Now it is a sorry state of affairs.”

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