Targeting the Opposition for not letting Parliament function, President Pranab Mukherjee Thursday said disruptions amount to “gagging the majority” as it is “only the minority which disrupts” and “the chair has no option but to adjourn” proceedings. Stating that the floor of the House is not the place for dharnas for which “streets are still available”, he told parliamentarians “for God’s sake, do your job”.
Delivering the fourth Defence Estates Day lecture on ‘Electoral Reforms for a Stronger Democracy’, Mukherjee, a veteran parliamentarian who became President, said disruption of the House is “totally unacceptable in the parliamentary system”.
WATCH VIDEO | For God’s Sake, Do Your Job: President Pranab Mukherjee On Parliament Disruptions
“People send their representatives to speak, not to sit in dharna, not to create any trouble on the floor. For that, streets are still available. Only few weeks in a year, Parliament is in session. For demonstrations, you can choose other places. But for God’s sake, do your job. You are meant to transact business. You are meant to devote your time for exercising the authority of members, particularly Lok Sabha members over money and finance,” he said.
Clearly anguished by the manner in which the winter session of Parliament has been stalled due to disruptions, the President said: “Disruption means you are hurt, you are gagging majority. Majority never participates in this disruption. Only minority comes to the well, shouts slogans, stops proceedings and creates a situation in which the chair has no option but to adjourn the House.”
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Maintaining that he was not singling out any one party or individual, Mukherjee said “it was incumbent upon all parties” to stop “a practice which should not be acceptable at all”.
“My teacher taught me three Ds are essential in a democracy. And those three Ds are debate, dissension and decision. But there was no fourth D. At least my teacher did not tell me there is a fourth D, that is disruption.”
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“Whatever be the differences, members have the opportunity to speak their mind and discuss issues freely. Even if a member levels an allegation against someone, no court can prosecute him because he has said so on the floor of the House. This extent of freedom available to members of Parliament should not be misused by causing disruptions,” he said.
The President called for electoral reforms, including increase in number of Lok Sabha seats, passing of women’s reservation Bill and simultaneous holding of Lok Sabha and assembly elections.
Deviating from his prepared text, Mukherjee said he was speaking “frankly and strongly” because there are certain areas regarding holding of elections which require attention and there are aberrations which need to be corrected. This has necessitated electoral reforms which should be taken up seriously.
Referring to the set of recommendations on electoral reforms circulated by the Election Commission in the first week of December, the President called for a public debate to make necessary amendments and corrections.
He gave his example as a member of the Lok Sabha where he did not even know the faces of half of the 16-lakh strong electorate which had elected him as their MP.
He said 543 members for a 800 million electorate and 1.28 billion population, which is going to be much larger in the future, is inadequate. “To give true expression to the will of the people, it is time that we seriously look at the legal provisions on the delimitation of the parliamentary constituencies with a view to increasing their number,” he said.
Accepting the fact that the proposal for holding simultaneous elections is very difficult, he said holding of frequent elections is a strain on both administrative and financial resources. “We are ready to pay this price for democracy, but it should not be at the cost of development in a developing economy like ours. We have to find a way out so that we can ensure that elections to Parliament and state assemblies are held together, if possible,” he said.
He said administrative and development work is adversely affected during elections since no new development projects can be taken up by the government. He made two suggestions: one, the period of holding elections should be shortened; and two, work related to the central government in a state should not be affected during elections in that state.
“If political consensus is developed, simultaneous elections could be held,” the President said, calling upon constitutional experts, Election Commission, state and central governments and political parties to sit together and discuss this issue. He suggested ways in which the Constitution can be amended to extend the period of President’s Rule in states to synchronise them with General Elections.
Mukherjee also hoped that the Lok Sabha will pass the Women’s Reservation Bill which has already been passed by Rajya Sabha. The Bill, he said, “is alive and could be revived. With a single party majority in Lok Sabha, it is a great advantage, as the Bill has to be only passed in Lok Sabha now”.
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