A weak fibre of democracy

A weak fibre of democracy
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First Published: Thu, Dec 25 2008. 11 23 PM IST

Jayachandran / Mint
Jayachandran / Mint
Updated: Thu, Dec 25 2008. 11 23 PM IST
The current Lok Sabha debated for 41.88 hours before approving the demand for grants and finance Bills that would define the Union government’s spending in 2008-09; 56 years ago, it took 98.77 hours, more than twice of what the current Lok Sabha took, to pass the annual spending Bill for an economy which was a mere fraction of today’s trillion-dollar-size economy. Another crucial metric was that on Tuesday, the Lok Sabha took a mere 17 minutes before giving its assent to nine Bills that set out new legislations. This is not an aberration: In 2007, 14 Bills were debated for less than 20 minutes.
Jayachandran / Mint
On Thursday, Mint ran a data series compiled by PRS Legislative Research listing similar dubious statistics that are a grim reminder that all is not well with the bedrock of Indian democracy: Parliament. It is a wake-up call that can only be ignored at the peril of democracy. Every five years, the people elect members to the Lok Sabha. They represent the will and aspirations of the people. Letting the executive get through legislations without debate is akin to denying the aspirations of citizens.
While it is the job of the executive to use the political means at its disposal to push its own agenda, it is the task of the Opposition to ensure that this is preceded by a healthy debate where there is a legitimate opportunity to include dissenting viewpoints. Since in India it is the executive that decides on when it convenes Parliament, it vests itself with enormous power. This lopsided structure creates anomalies such as extending the monsoon session of Parliament by six months to include even a winter session; rowdy scenes that have prevented orderly functioning of Parliament, leading to frequent adjournments and loss of time; how the Opposition has failed to censure the government for failures of policy oversight in such critical sectors such as telecom; as PRS points out, Parliament has not approved a legislation introduced by a private member in 38 years.
Clearly, the time for introspection is here. The onus cannot only be on the executive or the ruling coalition. Instead, it is for the entire Parliament and the Speaker to take the lead. Since the life of this Parliament has but a few months, it makes no sense now.
From all indications, it looks as though the next Parliament will be equally, if not more truncated, which means the role of the Speaker will become that much more critical. The Opposition and the ruling party will have to bury the hatchet for the common cause of democracy. The time for change is here.
Have parliamentarians abdicated their responsibility? Tell us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Dec 25 2008. 11 23 PM IST
More Topics: Ourviews | Democracy | Parliament | Lok Sabha | Views |