‘If the Lok Sabha is not doing its business, why have it?’

PDT Achary served Parliament for 40 years and retired as the Secretary General of the Lok Sabha Secretariat. In this interview, he voices his dismay at the assault on Parliament

Photo courtesy: Getty Images
Photo courtesy: Getty Images
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S Khurram Raza

Q. Who is more responsible for the stalemate in Parliament? The Government or the Opposition?

A. There is no impasse that cannot be sorted out by the government and the Prime Minister. The PM and the Parliamentary Affairs Minister can invite the leader of the Opposition, have a frank conversation and address grievances. It is not as if there is a India-Pakistan kind of situation

in Parliament…the PM has to take the initiative. Nehru would come to Parliament every day and listen to the Opposition, intervene if the minister gave an unsatisfactory reply.

Q. The Union Budget has been passed again without any discussion this year. What is your reaction?

A. The Parliament is there to examine and approve the government’s spending. Therefore, it is clearly wrong to pass the Finance Bill without any discussion. Now look at the Finance Bill, which makes no mention of FCRA and various other provisions which have been ‘passed’ by Parliament. I spoke to several MPs and nobody seemed to know. The FCRA should not have been a part of the Finance Bill. It should have been brought separately and referred to the Parliamentary Committee for scrutiny. You are making a legislation which will have far reaching impact on the society. Committees are expected to go into each detail and look at different dimensions. The entire civil society gives its opinion. And you bypass the process completely?

Q. So, you say it was wrong to include the amendment to the FCRA in the Finance Bill ?

A. FCRA amendment is a very crucial amendment. Under the law, political parties could not receive contributions from foreign sources, from any company in which 80 per cent shares are owned by some foreigner whether it is an individual or company. The present government removed the cap and very quietly they have moved an amendment to the FCRA. Now any foreign company can donate money to any political party. They can buy a political party. It was precisely to prevent this the law was enacted. These foreign donors will control political parties and influence policies. It’s such a serious thing and yet it has been passed without any discussion. It has also been passed with retrospective effect from 1976 when the law was made for the first time. It had been repealed but was re-enacted in 2010. Parliament is not an ornament. If it is not doing its business, what is the use of having the Parliament?

The Parliament is there to examine and approve the government’s spending. Therefore, it is clearly wrong to pass the Finance Bill without any discussion. Now look at the Finance Bill, which makes no mention of FCRA and various other provisions which have been ‘passed’ by Parliament. I spoke to several MPs and nobody seemed to know. The FCRA should not have been a part of the Finance Bill. It should have been brought separately

Q. There is also concern over the Parliament Secretariat increasingly having bureaucrats on deputation. How do you see this trend?

A. Parliament’s job is to scrutinise the functioning of the government and if an IAS officer serving the Executive comes and sits here, he may not allow certain questions to be admitted. Directions will come from the ministry to drop questions or certain recommendations made by committees. Chances of career bureaucrats obliging such requests are obviously higher. During my tenure I would often get requests from even the Defence Ministry to drop certain questions and my response would be, “This is none of your business.” I could do it because I owed no allegiance to the government. I was answerable only to the Speaker. This independence of Parliament is being taken away. This is a very grave situation. All that was achieved by Vittal Bhai Patel in 1929 to secure an independent secretariat is getting nullified.

Q. Has the functioning of Parliamentary committees been affected?

A. I have seen some officers in tears after committee meetings. They were grilled for every little thing. But now members of the committees do not seem to take the task seriously. Some members come directly from the airport, sit there and would ask questions unrelated to the issue. It’s for the Speaker to call the Chairman of various committees from time to time and review their progress.

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