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Monday, July 06, 2020

Drawing the line

Non-functioning of Parliament is best addressed in the political arena. Judiciary does well to stay out of it.

By: Express News Service | Updated: September 26, 2015 12:00:44 am
Supreme Court, Supreme Court of India,  indian Parliament, H L Dattu, Lakshman rekha, indian express Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court’s rejection of a PIL seeking its intervention in ensuring the uninterrupted functioning of Parliament is welcome for underscoring the fundamental working principle of the separation of powers laid down by the Constitution. This principle divides the power between the three branches of government: the legislature, which makes laws; the executive, which executes or enforces these laws; and the judiciary, which adjudicates or interprets whether the laws and policies made enjoy constitutional validity. Such clear separation of functions prevents concentration of power in any single branch, while imposing checks and balances within the overall system. It is precisely the principle of not transgressing upon each other’s functions that Chief Justice of India (CJI) H.L. Dattu reaffirmed, while dismissing the PIL asking the court to frame guidelines for parliamentary proceedings to take place sans disruption. The court, he rightly stated, should know its lakshmanrekha and not overstep its boundary “to say Parliament be conducted in this manner and not in that manner”.

The latest order by no means undermines the judiciary’s role when it comes to review of legislative or executive actions. The courts can always step in when such actions are perceived as illegal, arbitrary or ultra vires of the Constitution; the judgments ordering the cancellation of coal block and telecom spectrum allocations made by the previous UPA regime were based on such interpretations. Moreover, Article 32, which B.R. Ambedkar called the “very soul of the Constitution”, allows every citizen to directly approach the Supreme Court if any fundamental right is violated — which extends even to laws seen to do so.

That said, it is not difficult to understand the frustration that led to the filing of the PIL by an NGO whose advisory board includes the likes of former CJI M.N. Venkatachaliah, former Central Vigilance Commissioner N. Vittal and eminent industrialist Ratan Tata. There is no doubt that parliamentary disruptions have become more the norm than the exception. Apart from the long-term costs of key reform legislation getting stuck — such as the one enabling a nationwide goods and services tax — non-productive lawmakers also impose immediate costs. Each minute of running Parliament is estimated to cost the taxpayer Rs 2.5 lakh, even as a total of 2,162 hours have been wasted over the last six sessions alone. But this, at the end of the day, is a political issue, not a constitutional matter to be resolved by the courts. Parliamentarians have been elected by the people to make laws in public interest. It can be left to the wisdom of voters to teach those responsible for creating legislative logjams the right lesson — at the time of elections.

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