Editorial: A Dysfunctional Parliament

Editorial: A Dysfunctional Parliament

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Wednesday, December 27, 2023, 08:49 PM IST
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A file photo of Parliament in session | Twitter

It has now become the norm for the Government to rush important Bills through in the two Houses of Parliament in the last few days of each session. Indeed, even the annual Budget has often been passed with little discussion. Instead of a productive debate on each important Bill with members from the Opposition in particular pointing out the potential lacune, and debating threadbare each clause to highlight the pitfalls hidden in the fine print, Parliament passes key Bills in a most cursory manner. The government is happy steamrolling important legislation at the fag end of each session, often in the absence of the Opposition. Indeed, even when the Opposition is present important Bills are rushed through a couple of days ahead of the scheduled end of the session. Increasingly, even the examination of the proposed legislation in minute detail, often with assistance from domain experts, in select committees of Parliament has become dysfunctional with partisanship informing the conduct of members. The idea behind the select committees was that members would debate thoroughly the proposed Bills in a bipartisan manner, before passage by Parliament after due changes are made based on the recommendation of the select committee. Now even select committees have come to reflect the partisanship witnessed daily in the two Houses.

In short, the government armed with a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha virtually has a free pass to push through all its legislative agenda. People at large, thus, are deprived of an opportunity to assess the merits and demerits of a proposed piece of legislation after listening to both the ruling party and the Opposition members. Considering the fact that proceedings of both Houses are live-streamed free on Doordarshan and other television channels, a great tool of participative democracy at work is thus rendered ineffective by a complete absence of debate on important legislation. Lest anyone thinks it is a new phenomenon we should note that the rot in the functioning had been on display for long. The UPA -II particularly witnessed logjams over one or the other scam of the Manmohan Singh government, resulting in the passage of important legislation at supersonic speed in the last few working hours of each session. The relevance of Parliament stands diminished considerably when it fails in thoroughly scrutinising key Bills with a bearing on the everyday life of people. For example, the new criminal and civil codes, among other important Bills, were passed by Parliament virtually without any participation by the Opposition.

The suspension of 146 members following the stalemate over the Opposition demand for a statement by the Home Minister on the security breach of Parliament facilitated the passage of these Bills without the country getting the benefit of their criticism thanks to a one-sided and a rather perfunctory debate. Outside Parliament, several legal experts suggested that the new codes merely rehashed the old ones barring a few exceptions meant to reflect the socio-economic changes in the country since these were first framed nearly 200 years ago by the British. Besides, it was pointed out that the new codes would do nothing to unclog our justice delivery system which is saddled with a mountain of long-pending cases. Whatever the validity of the above criticism of the new criminal and civil codes, ordinary people were denied an opportunity to listen to their representatives offer both the pluses and the minuses of the proposed changes. That a section of the legal community has alleged that the new criminal code has made sedition laws further stringent ought to have been brought up in Parliament. And the Home Minister ought to have clarified the situation after hearing such criticism on the floor of the House. Unfortunately, the Opposition chose to boycott the proceedings thanks to its obduracy on the breach of Parliament’s security by a couple of misguided youths. It thus played into the government’s hands, allowing alterations in the long-standing criminal and civil codes without a purposeful debate. Admittedly, the obligation to restore decency, decorum and orderliness in the functioning of what is the sanctum sanctorum of our Parliamentary democracy lies with both the ruling and the Opposition parties. You cannot clap with one hand. One hopes in the new year there will less bitterness and confrontation in the polity to make Parliament fully relevant for fulfilling the peoples’ aspirations.

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