It’s what MPs do: List of unparliamentary words is not such a big deal.

Times of India, July 15, 2022

Quality of law-making is the real House test.
A list of ‘unparliamentary’ words and phrases, published by the Lok Sabha secretariat, saw opposition leaders accusing the government of trying to gag them. This was a bit odd – to use a Parliament-appropriate expression – as publishing such words has been happening since 1950s. The list is not a diktat, it’s based on rulings by presiding officers in parliamentary and assembly proceedings in India and Commonwealth countries. And none of the words is banned, clarified LS speaker Om Birla. Presiding officers will expunge remarks they deem unacceptable. Therefore, it’s not really a gag order. Also, there are easy workarounds for many words listed as unparliamentary. Some critics are exercised that words like “incompetent” have been deemed inappropriate. Why not say “competence is in question” instead – it makes the same point but doesn’t sound like a sweeping judgment.

That said, while suggesting expunging of words and phrases, parliamentary secretariats should not entirely take a mechanical approach. House discussions must also reflect the liveliness that animates politics in a voluble and sometimes volatile democracy. MPs can also help by reminding themselves that the five minutes of news television coverage they get for using unparliamentary words do nothing for their legislative career.

Ultimately, a Parliament is judged by the quality of its debate and its law-making. Some of the recent sessions of Parliament have witnessed record “productivity”, even exceeding 100%. That disruptions have been few is good. And when debates do happen, some MPs, on both sides, have made quality interventions. What’s needed in greater measure is extensive deliberations in smaller parliamentary committees and deeper House debates on complex issues. Only this week the Supreme Court flagged a hole in the Juvenile Justice Act amended in 2015. This allowed trial of a minor as an adult for heinous offences. The law hadn’t mandated preliminary assessment by a child psychologist, making SC wonder how judges or social workers can competently assess a minor’s mental capacity and ability to understand consequences. Ensuring such legislative slips don’t happen should be a first priority for MPs.

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