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Articles have been written in newspapers by experts about the disruption of parliament and its causes. In fact, we have travelled on this road many times. Not allowing parliament to function has become almost a routine. But no one outside parliament seems to bother much about it. We have come to this stage of imperviousness after long years of disruption. All political parties alternately become disruptors. Yesterday’s disruptors become today’s champions of order in the House who will again become disruptors when they move to the opposition.
Why have we come to this pass? Most of the experts are out of their depth when addressing this question. The single answer to this question is that parliament cannot function unless there is minimum trust between the government and the opposition. Trust can be established only when the government stops belittling and reviling the opposition and the opposition begins to seriously review their role in parliament.
If the government genuinely feels that the opposition is indispensable in parliament, half the problem will be solved. But here, the challenge is the large majority that the government enjoys and the presence of a powerful leader. A combination of these two will most certainly make the opposition and parliament, in that order, irrelevant. The members of the ruling party look at the opposition benches with contempt and think that their presence in the House is not important. The opposition often cannot have its way on any matter in the House these days, which adds to their frustration and which makes them more and more aggressive. The simple truth about parliament today is that the opposition wants to discuss issues – the Pegasus expose, farm laws and the steep rise in fuel prices – that will expose the government and the government effectively stonewalls it. Both are running around in circles. So we have a stalemate.
This stalemate can be ended and normalcy can be restored if the leader of the House, that is, the prime minister calls the leaders of various parties to his room and has a heart-to-heart talk. It won’t be difficult for them to collectively decide, at the end of the meeting, to discuss all issues in the House irrespective of whether they have the potential to expose or embarrass the government.
Channels of communication
Even in the midst of an extremely strained relationship between the government and the opposition, the channels of communication between them have never been closed. Efforts were always made to resolve the issue. An instance can be cited here to show what kind of initiative the government was taking in the past to break the logjam in the House. There was a case of corruption involving a Congress MP, Tulmohan Ram from Bihar and L.N. Mishra, a Union minister who was a close confidante of then prime minister Indira Gandhi. The House was in turmoil. The opposition protest within the House continued for a few days. Of course, the MPs had not yet discovered the well of the House so they did not come into it but loudly protested from their seats. The opposition demanded all the relevant papers and an internal inquiry report to be placed on the table. After one week of noisy protest, the government relented and agreed to place all the papers in the speaker’s chamber, where the leaders of parties could examine them. This decision was taken by the government after informal discussions with the leaders of the opposition. The matter was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
If no efforts are made by the government, the disruption will continue and in the meantime, the government will get all the Bills passed without any discussion. There is in fact a sense of déjà vu about it. The House passing important Bills which have far-reaching impact on the life of the people is a serious infraction of the constitution and the rules of the House.
Article 107 of the constitution says a Bill is deemed to have been passed only if it is agreed to by both Houses, except Money Bills. The House can agree to a Bill only after its provisions are discussed and reply given by the minister in the House. Unless this vital process is gone through, the House will not be in a position to agree to a Bill. The rules of the House on Bills have been framed in pursuance of this provision. Rules specify what shall be discussed at various stages of the Bills. The three readings stipulated in these rules are to enable the members to have a detailed consideration of the Bill in the House. Further, the committees have been set up for detailed scrutiny of the Bills. Thus, the scheme of the legislative procedure contained in the constitution and the rules require parliament to debate the Bills in great detail. Passing the Bills without debate in the House, therefore, is a gross violation of the constitution and the House rules. This wrong practice, of course, was followed by the earlier governments also. Ruckus in the House does not give the government the authority to act in violation of the constitution and the rules of the House.
The stalemate in parliament has to end. It can be ended only through political intervention. It is a mystery that the stalemate continues even after two weeks without any visible move being made by the government. All issues relating to governance can be discussed in parliament. No one in his right mind can say that parliament will not discuss issues that cause inconvenience to the government. Prolonged disruption of parliament due to the reluctance of the government to discuss a particular issue is unheard of in democratic governments. It is a great irony that parliament, which the people of the country look up to for solving their problems, is not able to solve its internal problem. It shows our parliament and parliamentarians in poor light.
P.D.T. Achary is former secretary general of the Lok Sabha.