Special to the Express: Why a rare amendment produced a significant Rajya Sabha moment

For only the fifth time in India’s parliamentary history — and the second time since last year — an amendment to the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address was carried in Rajya Sabha; an unambiguous testimony to the importance of the Upper House in our polity and our democracy.

Written by S.N. Sahu | Updated: March 10, 2016 12:09:00 am
Opposition members protest in the well of the Rajya Sabha. (Source: PTI) It is not a usual happening in the annals of Parliamentary democracy in our country. If the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address is amended in the Lok Sabha, the Government would fall. (Source: PTI)

History was created in the Rajya Sabha on March 9, 2016 after an amendment by Ghulam Nabi Azad to the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address was adopted by the House. This is the second time in two years that the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address has been amended. Last year, the Motion of Thanks was amended on the issue of black money.

It is not a usual happening in the annals of Parliamentary democracy in our country. If the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address is amended in the Lok Sabha, the Government would fall. One may recall that Prime Minister Chandrashekhar resigned from office when he apprehended that the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address would be amended in the Lok Sabha. The adoption of an amendment to the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address is of vital importance for the credibility of the Government.

It is well known that Article 87 of the Constitution deals with the Address by the President to the members of both the Houses assembled together at the commencement of the first session after each general election to the Lok Sabha and at the commencement of the first session of each year. Such Address of the President constitutes the policies and programmes of the Government and, therefore, it can be described as the manifesto of the Government. Rules 14 to 19 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of Rajya Sabha deal with, among others, the President’s Address, scope of discussion on the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address, and the amendments to be moved to such motion. Once the President delivers such Address, it is discussed in both the Houses of Parliament, and as per Rule 18 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Council of States, the Prime Minister or any other Minister of the Government replies to the discussion.

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It is instructive to note that prior to 2015, on three occasions the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address was amended in the Rajya Sabha. It happened for the first time in 1980 when Bhupesh Gupta’s amendment concerning attempts to engineer defections in some state Assemblies and the arbitrary dissolutions of such Assemblies was adopted on January 30, 1980.

The Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address was amended for the second time in 1989, when six amendments were adopted by the House. The first amendment referred to the failure on the part of the Union Government to mention the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute in the President’s Address and the measures proposed by the Government to resolve it. The second amendment was about the failure of the Union Government to avert destabilisation of State Governments. The third amendment was about the failure of the Union Government to amend the Constitution to ensure right to work as a Fundamental Right. The fourth amendment dealt with the failure of the Union Government to mention Indo-Sri Lanka accord and take measures for the safety and security of Tamils in Sri Lanka, and the devolution of powers to the northeastern provinces. The fifth amendment was about the failure of the Union Government to outline its stand on the Anandpur Sahib resolution which threatened the unity and integrity of the country. And the sixth amendment was about the abject surrender of the Union Government to the demands of the anti-national secessionist forces in Jammu & Kashmir by releasing some terrorists in December 1989.

The Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address was amended by the Rajya Sabha for the third time on March 12, 2001, when the House adopted the amendment on the issue of decision of the Government to sell a profit-making public sector undertaking, BALCO, to a private sector company whose track record of managing and running an aluminum manufacturing company was doubtful.

It is significant that almost 14 years later, that is, on March 3, 2015, the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address was amended by the Rajya Sabha when it adopted two amendments concerning black money. It signifies the importance and relevance of the Rajya Sabha in our body politic, and its meaningful role in holding the Government to account.

Exactly a year and six days later, i.e., on March 9, the Rajya Sabha amended the motion of thanks on the President’s Address by regretting that the address did not contain issues concerning elections to the Panchayati Raj bodies. The amendments to the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address consecutively for two years clearly brings out the dynamic of our Parliamentary democracy which is dependent on a balance of strength of political parties and the composition of the House. It unambiguously testifies to the importance of the Rajya Sabha in our polity and our democracy.

The author is Joint Secretary, Rajya Sabha Secretariat. The views expressed are personal, and have nothing to do with the Rajya Sabha Secretariat.

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