Disgracing Parliament ? a dangerous precedent

The Hindu, January 07, 2011

Its denigration, which we are witnessing today, has far graver consequences to our democracy than the necessity for a JPC to expose a major corruption scam.

In the unseemly controversy between the Opposition and the Government in Parliament over the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) for the 2G Scam, the institution of Parliament has suffered a severe blow to its image. Parliament, the foremost democratic institution of our Constitution, has been reduced to a farce by daily disturbances and disruptions by the Opposition demanding a JPC, forcing the presiding officers of the two Houses to adjourn them from day to day for 23 sittings, from November 9 to December 13, 2010. We do not know how this deadlock will be resolved as the Opposition has refused to give up its demand for a JPC even in the next session of Parliament and the government is equally determined not to concede it.

Worst session

In the past 82 sessions of Parliament this has been the worst session of Parliament. The Lok Sabha worked for seven hours and 37 minutes, i.e. 5.5 per cent of its available time, while the Rajya Sabha functioned for two hours and 44 minutes, i.e. 2.4 per cent of its available time. Of the 36 Bills Government planned to introduce in the winter session of 2010, only 13 were tabled; of the 35 Bills it planned to pass, only four were passed, that too without any debate. Supplementary Demands and Appropriation Bills for finances were passed without any debate by a voice vote amidst din and disorder. The Lok Sabha could hold its question hour only twice with only four Starred Questions getting oral replies. In the Rajya Sabha not a single Starred Question was answered. The fiscal loss to the public exchequer was a gigantic Rs.172 crore.

The issue whether the demand for a JPC to investigate the 2G Scam is just and the refusal of government is unjust fades into insignificance with the denigration of Parliament in this manner.

The fundamental basis of the functioning of Parliament under our Constitution is that the majority in Parliament has the right in normal course to introduce and pass legislation and also resolve any contentious issue by its majority strength. It is part of the functioning of Parliament in this manner that the Opposition, not commanding a majority, has to accept the actions of the majority even if it is opposed to it. This is the only practical way in which Parliament can work. A minority opposition cannot subvert or overcome a majority by extra parliamentary methods of creating disorder and stalling the proceedings in Parliament. Enforcing a ?bandh? of Parliament is more subversive of the rule of law than the usual political ?bandhs? called by political parties paralysing public life which has been condemned by the Supreme Court. However right the demand of the opposition for a JPC, its action leading to the disgracing of Parliament in the manner it has done by daily shouting, creating disorder and ruckus cannot be condoned.

debate would be democratic

The Opposition can demand a debate on the 2G scam by placing the facts and arguments in Parliament and forcing the government to refute the charges in a debate. A debate would be the democratic way contemplated by the Constitution of bringing government into account for its actions and would itself create a larger volume of public opinion against the government outside Parliament.

A dangerous precedent is being set by those who resort to stalling Parliament in this manner. If the present tactics of pressurising government by paralysing Parliament is considered legitimate, it would be equally legitimate to oppose a legislation to which the opposition is fundamentally opposed by disrupting the working of Parliament. Besides this the authors of the present impasse in Parliament must realise that they are setting a bad precedent not only for a future session of Parliament but also for other State legislatures.

The denigration of Parliament which we are witnessing today has far graver consequences to our democracy than the necessity to expose a major corruption scam by a JPC.

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