The Council of Ministers is accountable to Parliament. It is the Parliament which is not only expected to make laws but also exercise oversight on the Government’s functioning and performance. But over a period of time either the Parliament has abdicated its responsibilities or the Governments have ignored Parliament and had their way.
An MP last year confessed that he felt depressed at the thought of another session, which would make little difference to the country. As he put it, ‘The Narendra Modi government will propose. The opposition will oppose. If matters come to a head and a vote is called, the government’s brute majority will dispose.’
The premise of the Modi Government is that it cannot make any mistake because it has been given a mandate by the people. It is alright to draft laws in secret, keep Parliament and the MPs in the dark, allow them little time to study the law or seek expert opinion, go through a perfunctory debate and get the laws passed.
But is it alright? In a representative democracy, Parliament should be supreme. But the Indian Parliament has little power to check a rogue Government. As long as the BJP was not confident of support in the Rajya Sabha, it declared Bill after Bill as a ‘Money Bill’ so that the approval of the Lok Sabha alone becomes necessary. Entire union budgets have been passed in the Lok Sabha by this Government without any discussion. The Bill to bifurcate J & K into two Union Territories was sprung on an unsuspecting Parliament out of the blue and rammed through after a few hours of equally perfunctory debate.
Should laws for a country of 1.3 billion people be made by a group of 10 unnamed Secretaries, lawyers, Babus or consultants ? Should such laws not go through sufficient Parliamentary scrutiny ? But the Modi Government has disregarded the Parliamentary Committees, already there to scrutinize the Bills and report back to Parliament. In the last Lok Sabha, only 25% of the Bills were referred to committees in sharp contrast to 60 and 71 per cent of the Bills in the previous two Lok Sabhas.
Murmurs of disapproval can be heard. Voting by MPs like a herd of sheep on party lines is attracting attention. The failure of the anti-defection Act and its impact are being discussed. Even presiding officers have begun to acknowledge that in some matters they enjoy too much power while in others too little.
Debates in Parliament have become a ritual and go largely unnoticed, the media focusing on what suits them on the day. There is a growing clamour for reforms, for more power to the Parliament and freeing the MPs from the yoke of the Anti-Defection Act.
Parliamentary oversight needs to become stronger. Institutions like the National Security Advisor, the Chief of Defence Services, the NIA, the CBI, the ED etc. need to report to Parliament and answer questions. The flawed belief that their loyalty is to the Government of the day and not to the people of the country must end.
But can we trust the Parliament or the Government to bring in reforms ? Sadly, the answer is in the negative. That is why people will have to demand that political parties take them up and commit to making necessary changes in the Constitution.