Herald: A requiem for a dysfunctional Parliament

A requiem for a dysfunctional Parliament

15 Mar 2019 06:36am IST
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15 Mar 2019 06:36am IST

The country’s apex legislative body has just ended yet another stormy 16th Lok Sabha session on February 13, 2019. Twenty-two Bills lapsed. Parliament is meant to provide a forum for debating all aspects of important issues, with constructive conclusions to either pass legislation or amend existing legislation. These then go to the Rajya Sabha, and if passed are sent to the President for his final stamp of approval, before being gazetted and becoming the law of the land. 

The only exception to this procedure is a “judgmental law”. Here in the absence of a specific law dealing with the issue at hand, a judgment of the Supreme Court may hold as a “law” until such time as the legislature drafts an appropriate law or legislates otherwise. The system was meant to provide a smooth, rational and civilised working module for the benefit of the country. Instead chaos reigns.

Article 107 enumerates the situations in which a Bill lapses. Briefly, a Bill pending in the Lok Sabha lapses on its dissolution. The Bill may have originated in the Lok Sabha or may have been transferred to it by the Rajya Sabha.  A Bill passed by the Lok Sabha and pending in the Rajya Sabha also lapses on the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. Out of a total of fifty-five bills, twenty-two lapsed because proceedings in parliament were disrupted for one reason or another; bills could not be discussed, and therefore lapsed. Some were bulldozed through the Lok Sabha amidst the din without discussion.

Disruption of parliamentary proceedings was raised to a fine art by the NDA group in opposition. Discussions on the GST, Aadhaar and others were obstructed by violent behaviour and forced adjournments. Yet when they came to power, these bills were passed as innovations. Be that as it may, it is totally irresponsible of subsequent opposition groups to continue the practice because “they started it”. Contrast this uncouth behaviour with the civilised manner in which the Brexit issue is being debated in the House of Commons, UK. The matter is a fiercely divisive one, more so than the issues before our parliament. Yet, not once were proceedings adjourned because of unruly behaviour. Most regrettably the lapsed bills dealt with many important matters of governance in the country. 

Interestingly in many cases, the proposed bills were vehemently opposed by various sections of society making the need for debate and discussion even more imperative. Amongst the most controversial was the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 to replace the 1955 Bill, and passed by the Lok Sabha on January 8. This would grant Indian nationality to any non-Muslim minority community migrants like Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan after six years of residency even if they did not possess any documents. The North-eastern States erupted in violent protest; and it may be just as well that the Bill lapsed as it would have led to severe social disruption.

Another such disruptive Bill was the Triple Talaq Bill (Women Protection Bill). This has been doing the rounds in the form of an ordinance for some time and remains stuck in the Rajya Sabha in the face of a combined opposition insisting that it be scrutinised by a select committee of the House. As it could not be passed, it was the subject of yet another ordinance.  The Bill would render the practice of Triple Talaq illegal with the husband facing a threat of a 3-yr prison sentence with no provision for bail. Similarly, the Aadhaar Bill was cleared in Lok Sabha on January 4 but could not be taken up for consideration by the Rajya Sabha.  This Bill really showed up the duplicity of the current dispensation. Having opposed the concept whist in opposition, the bill was passed when in power only to be challenged in the Supreme Court, which made it voluntary with major alterations. It ruled that no person shall be denied any service for not having an Aadhaar number. Authentication of an individual’s identity via Aadhaar, for the provision of any service, could only be made mandatory by a law of Parliament. The proposed legislation now provides for any individual to voluntarily use the Aadhaar number to establish identity, by authentication or offline verification.

The Whistle Blowers Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2015 provided a mechanism for receiving complaints and inquiring into public interest disclosures against acts of corruption or criminal offences by public servants. But the Bill was neutered by prohibiting the reporting of any acts of corruption if they pertained to economic, scientific interests or the security of India, Cabinet proceedings, intellectual property, information received in a fiduciary capacity, or information obtained under the Official Secrets Act. What’s left you wonder? 

Important bills of social importance like the Trafficking of Persons Bill and the Transgender Persons Bill will now have to be reintroduced. The new Consumer Protection Act, though strictly not a healthcare bill was, in my opinion, targeted largely at the medical profession and opposed by the medical fraternity. In fact, the IMA National President who is also a RS member, is reported to have barged into the Chairman’s chamber and threatened total immobilisation of proceedings if the Bill was tabled. Other healthcare bills languishing in limbo are the National Medical Council Bill and the Indian Medical Council Bill 2018. The latter has been a matter of repeated ordinance like so many others.

 When, oh when will our politicians acquire the maturity to recognise the importance of the office for they were elected?

(The writer is a founder member of the Voluntary Health Association of Goa)
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