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Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has a wish list for Parliament’s Winter Session: Prime Minister should listen to the Opposition

The House must become the forum for a dialogue, not monologue. Government must refer the maximum number of draft bills to committees.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks before a session of Parliament in New Delhi. (Express Photo: Prem Nath Pandey/File)
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Parliament is the most important symbol of Indian democracy. It is through summoning the House and calling MPs to participate in legislative and other business through discussion, debates, committee dispensations, and other mechanisms that Parliament enables the citizens of the country, through their representatives, to participate in decision-making and hold the government to account.

Standing Committees are a microcosm of Parliament. They were conceived to scrutinise the technical details of bills referred to them, leaving the House to look at broader policy matters. Unfortunately, far fewer bills are now being referred to committees. In the first term of this government (2014-19), about 27 per cent of bills were referred to committees. During the 17th Lok Sabha, as per the data available on the Lok Sabha website, less than 10 per cent have been referred to committees, compared to 71 per cent under the UPA-II government in the 15th Lok Sabha.

The government should not forget that the committee system has stood the test of time. Not referring bills to committees and passing them without proper debate is a direct hit on the foundation of our democracy. So, during the upcoming Winter Session, I would like to appeal to the government to refer the maximum number of draft bills to committees.

There are also other matters that Opposition MPs – fulfilling their responsibility of raising peoples’ concerns – want to discuss on the floor of the House. However, the appeals of the Opposition go unheard. During the coming Winter Session, I wish for the government to give more space to the Opposition.

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Our economy is being touted as the fastest-growing in the world. However, it is getting weaker on fundamentals. The World Bank (in October 2022) estimated that India will grow at 6.5 per cent in the current fiscal year (FY22-23), which is a downward revision by one percentage point since June. Inflation is soaring above the 6 per cent target, interest rates are rising, macroeconomic policies are becoming restrictive, and the rupee is plunging to all-time lows against the US dollar. And the danger of a global slowdown is looming.

The biggest worry is high inflation, which has affected the budget of the common man, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic. The seriousness of the situation can be assessed by the fact that a meeting of the RBI’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) was held recently to discuss the report to be sent to the Union government for having failed in its responsibility concerning inflation control. It is high time for Parliament to discuss the advancing challenge and for the government to open the floor for the same.

The government is so busy with image management and electioneering that it is ignoring the misery of the youth, who are the victims of high unemployment rates. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), India’s unemployment rate was at 8.3 per cent in August 2022. Several posts are lying vacant, and the processes for recruitment are slow. Then there are delays and paper leaks in competitive examinations.

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These issues deserve to be debated in Parliament. Why the government avoids doing so is a mystery.

Whether it is ED, CBI or Election Commission, the pillars of India’s democracy now face ideological subversion and destruction. This government has used its brute majority and power to target leaders from opposition parties. The case of extensions being given to the ED chief reveals the government’s intentions in black and white.

The latest UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report has revealed that since 2017, India has undergone a serious regression in human rights. The government has escalated its crackdown on independent and democratic institutions and is using draconian counterterrorism and national security laws to prosecute and harass human rights activists, journalists, students, and peaceful protesters. Attacks, discrimination, and incitement against religious minorities are increasing. The traditionally marginalised Dalit and Adivasi communities have been denied justice and equitable protection. The Indian government is known to have said that the “UPR is an important mechanism that India fully supports” and “as the world’s largest democracy, India is committed to the highest standards of human rights”. The Opposition, therefore, wants to know the initiatives our government is taking to improve the human rights situation.

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We appreciate India’s ambitious Nationally Determined Contribution pledge – a step towards the goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2070. However, there are also worrying developments on the climate front. The Environment Performance Index (EPI) placed India at the bottom of 180 countries. India has rejected the index saying that it uses “biased metrics and weights”. However, the deteriorating air quality and rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions are having a real, measurable effect on people’s lives.

According to the 2021 World Air Quality Report, India is home to 10 of the 15 most polluted cities in the world. New Delhi has been named the capital with the worst air quality. Though the government managed to disapprove of the 2022 EPI, can we deny the Air Quality Report as well? We need to find a way out and this issue should be discussed in the House.

Finally, the importance this government gives to Parliament has been manifested in the absence of the Prime Minister while the House is in session. Recently, the Home Minister has been found following suit. And when on rare occasions the PM does appear, the House becomes the forum for a monologue and not for dialogue, discussion and deliberation. The country wants the PM to listen to the Opposition, stop being autocratic, and accept our opinion constructively. Citizens want answers to their concerns with transparency, accountability and responsibility.

Amrit Mahotsav cannot be celebrated by disrespecting Parliament, curtailing the independence of institutions, suffocating free expression, restricting the space to the political leaders, and reducing the Opposition to nothing. I hope good sense prevails and the country witnesses an effective Winter Session.

The writer is leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha

First published on: 06-12-2022 at 18:23 IST
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