By Debanjan Das, 1st History.
The recently concluded parliamentary session was indeed an eventful one. It was for the first time that the 17th Lok Sabha met after the ruling BJP stormed back to power securing 303 seats in the general election and along with NDA allies won 353 seats. The opposition strength was depleted to a large extent. Fireworks had begun to erupt right from the day of the oath taking when the treasury and the opposition benches tried to outdo each other by shouting slogans, forgetting all parliamentary etiquette and decorum. This was indeed inevitable given the political acrimony that exists between the ruling party and the opposition at the moment.
In terms of productivity, this was one of the most successful parliamentary sessions in the past two decades according to a report in The Times of India. The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha were in session for 281 and 195 hours respectively. While about 35 bills have been introduced, 21 have been passed by both the houses of Parliament while 7 have been passed only in the house where they originated, as per the PRS Legislative Research. While many in the government are hailing this ‘achievement’, it however,also sets a disturbing precedent.
The Budget Session lasted from 17th June 2019 to 7th August 2019, i.e. a little over a month. From the figures given above it can be concluded that on an average, each day, a new bill was introduced and passed by either of the Houses. Therefore, very little time was allotted for debate and discussion over the bills and in this session a number of contentious bills were passed like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, the Muslim Women ( Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill and the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, which has led to severe repercussion in the national politics. In fact, the J&K Reorganisation Bill was passed on the same day it was introduced in the respective houses giving very little time for discussing the provisions of a bill as significant as this one.
Furthermore, not a single bill was sent for review to a Parliamentary Committee, which shows how the government is aggressively pushing its legislative agenda, not allowing much scope for debate or deliberation and is not even willing to take suggestions from others,sparing very little thought on the dangerous precedent it sets for the world’s largest democracy, which should essentially tolerate debate, discussions and dissent and allow suggestions from various stakeholders. The forum for such debate has shrunk because of the landslide majority the ruling coalition has in the Lok Sabha, where it can easily push through contentious Constitutional Amendment bills, with the help of its allies and other friendly parties. Though for the time being, in Rajya Sabha the coalition falls short of the majority and the void has to be filled up by friendly non-NDA parties, it is expected to cross the halfway mark there by 2022. Therefore, the government can easily pass bills without much trouble from the opposition. This is precisely the reason why it is all the more necessary to allow for a far more extensive scrutiny of legislation and allow voicing of dissent.However, this government does not have a very clean track record when it comes to tolerating dissent and hearing the opposition out. The opposition has routinely accused it of trying to curb dissent and criticism. For instance, the government has been accused of diluting the provisions of the RTI Act by bringing in an amendment which seeks to control the tenure and salaries of the Information Commissioners, which many have argued is a step against transparency and reasonableness.
A healthy democratic environment allows for voicing of dissent and allows debate and deliberation and takes into consideration the views of various stakeholders to an issue. Unfortunately, such an environment cannot be found in India today, as the supporters of the ruling party have been routinely accused of abusing its detractors, specially on the social media, where those not conforming to the line of the ruling party have been routinely labelled as anti-national and traitors. Notwithstanding the nature of the legislation,if the government also takes along with it the opposition, listen to its objections- it would indeed do our democracy a lot of good.As first time MP Mahua Moitra said in her inaugural speech that, “The house belongs to the opposition”, she couldn’t have been more correct, given the lack of checks and balances this government has to face due to the depleted strength the opposition has in both houses of the parliament. There is no scope of dissent from within the ruling party or the ruling alliance as well.
It is therefore for the sake of the world’s largest democracy that the government must be more inclusive in its approach, allow debate and discussion in the parliament and not bulldoze bills through it, for it faces little hurdle, but allowing greater deliberations over bills and other issues in the Parliament, with the opposition being given greater opportunity to present its stance bodes well for our democracy, which we have been preserving well since 1947, in spite of many ups and downs.