Friday, June 18, 2021

Functional democracy

The elected representatives appear to be doing the biggest disservice to their electorate by organized disruption of the proceedings in the Parliament and other elected Houses across the country instead of doing their business for the welfare of the people. This is the most pitiable sight when it is live-streamed through television channels to watch for the electorate in the country. The sheer wastage of precious time by the parliamentarians is not only unfortunate but also demeaning. The legislative business goes for a six in the elected Houses when no business is transacted by the elected representatives. Such displays became common in Parliament in the past decade as political parties and legislators demonstratively advertised their points of view without recourse to debate. In fact, the debate has been discarded by the members in the House and some of the legislations are passed with a brute majority by the ruling party. A number of crucial bills have taken an inordinate time to be enacted due to disruption, while others were not enacted despite a broad consensus – such as the Women’s Reservation Bill – due to the behaviour of a few naysayers. Many sessions of Parliament in the recent past have seen little business being transacted due to repeated disruption. In this context, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu’s exhortation to political parties to incorporate a Model Code of Conduct for their legislators in State Assemblies and in Parliament is welcome. He suggests that the code should include stipulations on members not entering the well of the House, and desisting from sloganeering and unruly acts. If indeed parties adopt a code, it will go a long way in making parliamentary work meaningful by having debate on the pros and cons of the bills to be passed in the interest of the common masses. Otherwise, the general public will lose interest in the procedural aspects of parliamentary democracy and limit their participation to just voting in the elections. It is also noteworthy that on certain occasions, the people in general have been distraught with the role of the elected representatives in the Parliament. Apart from this, it is also important to note that the absence of disruption alone does not make for meaningful debate. This was perhaps for the first time that the current Budget session sailed through with minimal disruption. Yet the high productivity during the session came without sufficient deliberation over crucial bills, several of which were rushed through without vetting by parliamentary standing and select committees. These committees have in the past been useful in expanding discussion over laws with civil society and experts from various streams of the larger society. They have also facilitated an enhanced cross-party coordination over issues. By not sending a single Bill among the 28 that were introduced and passed to a standing or select committee for scrutiny, the current session accentuated the trend that has minimised the importance of such committees over the last few years. Unlike the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-2014), when 71% of the bills were referred to such committees, in the 16th Lok Sabha, they constituted only a fourth of the overall number of bills. Time spent on debates in the current session in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha was barely a third of the overall business. This does not go down well for lawmaking. As Venkaiah Naidu has also pointed out correctly, deliberation is an important component of parliamentary democracy apart from legislation and accountability of lawmakers. All three aspects must adhere to some code for a thorough going procedural democracy in the country. Moreover, debate, despite differences, among the political parties is the essence of a functional democracy. This also sends out a positive message to the common masses about the working of the elected representatives.