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Business News/ Politics / Policy/  It would be better if Rajya Sabha can also scrutinize money bills: P.J. Kurien

It would be better if Rajya Sabha can also scrutinize money bills: P.J. Kurien

Outgoing Rajya Sabha deputy chairman P.J. Kurien on the election to the post, his tenure, parliamentary disruptions and need for more powers to the Upper House of Parliament

P.J. Kurien, outgoing deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/MintPremium
P.J. Kurien, outgoing deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

New Delhi: After serving as deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha for two consecutive terms, P.J. Kurien’s stint ended earlier this month. In an interview, he speaks on the election to the post, his tenure, parliamentary disruptions and need for more powers to the Rajya Sabha. Edited excerpts:

You held the position of deputy chairman for two terms. How do you look back at your tenure?

I am satisfied. Six years certainly was a period where I could do my job to my satisfaction, impartially. It is a job that requires some decisions that were ruled from the chair which I have done impartially and objectively.

Any highlights or memorable moments from your tenure?

There were so many incidents. Everyday there would be something or the other. It is difficult to select one. I have one incident which pains me. That due to some misunderstanding honourable member Mayawati (Bahujan Samaj Party chief) resigned. That was a communication gap or misunderstanding. She wanted to raise an issue for which I wanted to give enough time. When she stood up, the leader of opposition (LoP) also stood up.

When LoP and some other member stands up simultaneously, I am bound to call the LoP… She started speaking on the subject which I would have allotted more time for. I only wanted the LoP to speak first. She misunderstood and suddenly to my surprise said she is resigning. I felt hurt because I have a lot of respect for that member.

The appointment of the deputy chairman has been delayed a lot and there is still uncertainty. How do you see it?

Even my election was also delayed. At the time, I was one of the vice-chairmen and I was presiding as that. I chaired for a number of days as vice-chairman and only after that was I elected as deputy chairman. It can happen. It is up to the government and the chairman to fix a date and conduct the election.

Do you think the government and the opposition parties can reach a consensus on this issue?

It is better if they can reach a consensus. Deputy chairman sits mostly in the chair and presides. If a person is elected with consensus, that is certainly better. It will be good for the functioning of the Rajya Sabha also. There is no harm in getting a person elected through a contest. But the person once elected he/she should be above party lines and be strictly impartial, objective and value both sides. Even if there is a contest…it is for the government to initiate talks with the opposition and try their best for a consensus.

The past few sessions of Parliament has seen abysmally low productivity. We have seen people rush to the well of the House. How do you see the functioning of Parliament?

Of late, there is a tendency of political parties to raise their issues not through debate but through shouting of slogans and coming to the well of the House. They think that by those measures they will get attention from the media. If they raise it in a discussion or debate, many members feel that they will not get adequate attention. They feel that if they demand through a debate, the government may not respond. They feel that they will get a better response through agitation.

I am of the opinion that this disruption and shouting of slogans is not good for democracy. That is not what is expected of Parliament. Parliament is for debate, discussion and then to take decision. Unfortunately, there is a degeneration which has been happening over the years.

I came to Lok Sabha in the 1980s. Those days discussions, debates and disruptions were very rare. The stalling of Parliament probably started in the late 80s when Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister and the allegations of Bofors... Since then it started.

You cannot blame a particular party. All parties are responsible and they should understand that it is not in the interest of democracy. The government should listen to the genuine demands that MPs are making and redress their grievances. That is also not happening.

Corrective measures —someone needs to take initiative to discuss. Earlier chairman attempted to take some effort but did not succeed. Now the present chairman is also trying but so far has not succeeded. The present chairman has decided to amend the rules and that may help to some extent. This session is functioning.

You have advocated for changing rules in the Upper House to deal with disruptions. Do you think measures like suspending members could help in reducing disruptions?

Suppose you have an important business to be transacted and a large majority of the House is in favour of it. In Rajya Sabha now, a few members can disrupt and stall business. In such situations, the chairman can take action about those members. This is possible in the Lok Sabha because they have a rule where the Speaker has the power to act. In the Rajya Sabha, there is a rule but the point is that the rule says to deal with an individual member but it is a collective where the chair is not able to suspend all of them. It is possible through a resolution in the House but this is very difficult. Therefore, if the chair has suo moto powers to suspend them, they could use them. If they continue, the chair can adjourn and maybe later suspend to ensure that the same members cannot disrupt proceedings the next day. This is currently not happening in the Rajya Sabha. It will be helpful if power is given to act in such situations but it should be sparingly used.

There has also been a demand for the Constitution to be amended so that the Rajya Sabha could have the same powers as the Lok Sabha when it comes to money bills. What are your views?

According to the Constitution, the speaker decides which is a money bill and it is introduced in the Lok Sabha and only they have a say in that. If it is notified as a money bill, then Rajya Sabha can discuss it. Rajya Sabha is the House of elders. It is presumed that there are more experienced people there. The Rajya Sabha is a function of scrutiny. Whatever bill is passed in the Lok Sabha can be scrutinized in the Rajya Sabha and they can send amendments.

In case of a money bill, even if the Rajya Sabha gives some amendments, they have no value. Money bills are very important. I think it would be better if the Constitution is amended and the Rajya Sabha could also effectively scrutinize money bills. The Lok Sabha may be the people’s House, but you cannot say that the Rajya Sabha is not. India is a federal state who should also have a say. Where is the states’ view taken into account?

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Published: 30 Jul 2018, 05:31 AM IST
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