Article 79 of our Constitution lays down the principle of a bicameral Parliament consisting of two Houses, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. Lok Sabha members are elected directly by the people, while Rajya Sabha members are elected by members of state legislative assemblies. The president of India has to nominate 12 members to the Rajya Sabha. These elected and nominated persons become MPs only after taking a solemn oath as per Article 99 of the Constitution. The operative portion of the oath is: “I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India… and that I will faithfully discharge the duty upon which I am about to enter”. Members of both Houses are entitled to the same status and have equal rights, privileges, salary and allowances.
Every day of the 2015 monsoon session, we witnessed the chairperson of the Rajya Sabha helplessly pleading with MPs to discharge their responsibilities and maintain the decorum of the House, and later sitting dumbfounded, watching the pandemonium as a silent spectator before leaving after adjourning proceedings.
The justification advanced by the opposition for disrupting proceedings was preposterous — when they were in the ruling front, those in the opposition (who are in power now) used the same tactics. This means whoever is in the opposition has the right to ruin proceedings. The saddest and most deplorable facet is that when Parliament did not function due to their own fault, the MPs did not show the rectitude to forgo their salary and daily allowance.
From where did these MPs get the licence to demolish parliamentary functioning? The Constitution does not empower them. There is no platform in India, or even in the world, where proceedings are allowed to be disrupted in such a deplorable way. If students in a classroom misbehave, the teacher can send them out or take disciplinary action. If anyone disrupts proceedings inside a courtroom, he is liable to be proceeded against. In football matches, the referee would expel any player who disobeys the rules of the game. But in Parliament, the supreme legislative body, the chair remains a helpless spectator.
It is better not to have a forum if the chair cannot exercise even the power of a referee in a football match. The definition of democracy given by the late C. Rajagopalachari is perhaps the most apt in this context. He said, “Democracy is a government by discussion”. But, now, in India, this has became, “Democracy is a Parliament by disruption”. The paradox is that those who are engaged in such activities are elected (directly or indirectly) by the people to uphold the Constitution.
In Britain, no such unruly activity happens in the House of Lords. Members of the Lords Chamber are also called “elders”. Discussions in the Upper House take place in a serious and dignified manner. The Indian Constitution made the Rajya Sabha the equivalent of the House of Lords. Though such a bicameral legislative system was also envisaged for state legislatures, many states have abolished it.
In the past, MPs were free to switch from one party to another. But, now, this is not possible. There was a time when
persons convicted in criminal cases could continue as MPs, but now this, too, has become a thing of the past. Now, the pathetic situation of MPs, expected to be lawmakers, transforming into law-breakers needs to be reformed. If a majority still feels that the Rajya Sabha is essential for our democracy, the following suggestions could be considered: One, the Rajya Sabha should be there exclusively to re-examine the decisions of the Lok Sabha.
If any decision is unacceptable, it should be returned to the Lower House for reconsideration. The dissent expressed by the Rajya Sabha can be discussed by the Lok Sabha, but the decision of the latter that is then adopted shall be final. Two, the person presiding over the House should be empowered to take disciplinary action against disrupting MPs — by first warning them and then, if they persist, suspending them till the end of the session. If the suspension has to be repeated, such an MP should be disqualified from membership of the House.
The writer is a former judge of the Supreme Court