Debate has left the House

No matter how great the ‘scandal’,nothing justifies subverting Parliament

Written by T. R. Andhyarujina | Published:September 14, 2012 3:28 am

Parliament,our highest democratic institution,has been subverted by members who refuse to let it function. Debate and discussion are spurned by the opposition,even as it agitates on issues of “national concern”. If the government does not comply with the opposition’s demands,the latter disrupts Parliament as a matter of course.

In the recent monsoon session,the BJP asserted that it had a right to hold up Parliament after the CAG’s report on coal allocations,and that it would continue to do so until the prime minister resigned. Demanding the resignation of the prime minister or a minister is routine in the politics of a democracy. But holding Parliament to ransom for this is a travesty of democratic institutions and of the rule of law. In the monsoon session,the Lok Sabha lost 77 per cent of its working time and the Rajya Sabha 72 per cent. Every hour that was wasted meant a loss of Rs 1.50 crore. Only four out of 29 pending bills were passed in the session. The Lok Sabha passed three of these in 20 minutes,amidst the din. The presiding officers of both chambers were totally helpless to prevent the disruption and adjourned their respective Houses each day.

The prime minister and the government stated they were willing to debate the CAG report on the coal allocations and even to discuss the prime minister’s alleged culpability. This would have been the proper way in a parliamentary democracy,but it was rejected by the BJP,which was adamant on the prime minister’s resignation. The elementary principle of natural justice — to give the accused a chance to defend himself before he is condemned — seemed to have been forgotten. CAG reports are not sacrosanct; further examinations are needed to establish the findings of such reports. They are examined by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the findings of the latter become the subject of parliamentary debate. This established procedure was disregarded and Parliament was obstructed by shouting and slogans by a minority party.

Equally disgraceful was the commotion caused to prevent the introduction of a constitutional amendment bill that proposed reservation in promotions for SCs and STs in government service. On September 5,the Rajya Sabha — as well as thousands of TV viewers — witnessed the unbecoming spectacle of a scuffle between a member of the Bahujan Samaj Party,who favoured the bill,and a member of the Samajwadi Party,who did not. This led to the House being adjourned for the day. The next day,SP members returned shouting slogans,and were joined by the Shiv Sena. Once more,the bill could not be introduced and the House was adjourned. We have reached a stage when legislation cannot be introduced in Parliament merely because a political party is opposed to it. Such events made the last session the most degrading one in 62 years of Parliament.

Such negation of parliamentary democracy is becoming a familiar pattern. In the winter session of 2010,the Lok Sabha was not allowed to function for 23 sittings,as agitation over the 2G scam broke out,leading to a loss of Rs 230 crore. In the winter session of 2011,Parliament was held up for nine days on various matters,such as price rise,black money,FDI in retail and the creation of Telangana.

When the last dysfunctional monsoon session of Parliament finally ended,the BJP tried to justify holding up the Houses. It would shake the conscience of the country and make it aware of corruption in the allocation of national resources,said the BJP. But no matter how great the scandal,nothing justifies such unconstitutional methods of subverting Parliament. BJP also says that,had it not disrupted Parliament in 2010,the country would not have realised the amount of revenue that could accrue from proper 2G auctions. This is a totally misleading statement. The new 2G auctions,starting with a higher base price,are a result of the Supreme Court judgment of February 2,2012,not of parliamentary disruption in 2010.

The obstruction of Parliament this monsoon session is not one of “the rarest of rare cases” as a leader of the opposition tried to claim. It is becoming endemic and ruining our top democratic institution. Such obstructions set a bad precedent not only for Parliament but also for the legislatures in the states.

The writer,former solicitor general of India,is senior advocate of the Supreme Court,express@expressindia.com

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