The present Indian government is a regime of seemingly infinite paradoxes. While laying the foundation stone and Bhoomi Pujan of the new Parliament building, PM Shri Narendra Modi invoked Guru Nanak and reminded the people about his great message: "Jab tak sansar rahe, tab tak samvad rahe", and stressed on the need for dialogue to preserve the 'soul of democracy.' But this does not mirror in the actual functioning of the government. The government earlier in Monsoon Session not only suspended the Question Hour but also reduced the duration of Zero Hour to 30 minutes. Now, government's decision to scrap the winter session of Parliament in the guise of the Covid-19 pandemic once again exhibits difference between precept and practice.
The Modi government has cultured the art of changing or evading important democratic discourses. Government's tactic to scrap winter session of the Parliament is part of this strategy. The government fears that the opposition parties might raise farmer's issue loudly in Parliament's winter session along with issues like decomposing economy, mishandling of Covid-19 pandemic, vaccination plan, deteriorating Centre-State relations, misuse of CBI by the centre etc. Populace may form a negative image of the government particularly the peasantry. Opposition in winter session may also create an adverse public opinion against the ruling party which is crazy to win the forthcoming Assembly elections in some states particularly in West Bengal where many of its stalwarts are working day and night to ensure the victory. The ruling regime is always in election mood and instead of focusing on governance, their sole agenda is to win more and more elections in the country be it assembly, municipality or village panchayat.
The rising numbers of BJP in the Upper house along with partisan outlook and approach of presiding officers have shockingly strengthened government's ability to pass crucial bills without proper debate and scrutiny. There is progressively a sense of deep cynicism with the very process of parliamentary debates or at least the way it is being captivated by the executive at this moment. Many important issues touching upon the lives of people require to be discussed in Parliament urgently. Many people are suffering badly due to the Covid crisis and many have lost their lives and livelihoods. Thousands of farmers are protesting on the Delhi borders against the three farm laws which were passed in Parliament in haste without a discussion during the Monsoon session. These farmers are demanding a total repeal of the three farm laws but the government is not ready to repeal these laws though indicated to make some amendments in the laws. Now the matter has also reached the Supreme Court and the Court has issued notice to the government as well as the farmers' bodies to have an amicable solution to the issue.
Undisputedly, the Covid-19 is a very difficult time when the entire humanity is fighting against this invisible deadly virus. We are not alone in this global war against coronavirus. The health concerns raised by the government are genuine but there are ways to deal with this situation. Skipping a full session does not seem appropriate. It is well-known that even during this time many political events have been organized in different parts of the country. We have witnessed an assembly election in Bihar and many by-polls were also held across states during this pandemic. No election was postponed due to Covid-19 situation. This shows that the pandemic cannot stop the legislative business in the country if there is a strong will power to organize things properly by following the prescribed norms. Many countries are holding sessions of their legislatures through digital platforms during this corona crisis. We also have sufficient resources to hold such discussions digitally, if not physically. In the Budget session, the entire focus will be on the Budget and it will be very difficult for the opposition parties to raise other issues of public importance in Parliament during that session.
Parliamentary democracy envisages that matters involving implementation of policies of the Government should be discussed by the elected representatives of the people. Debate, discussion, and persuasion are, therefore, the means and essence of the democratic process. During the debates, the Members put forward different points of view. Members belonging to the same political party may also have, and may give expression to, differences of opinion on a matter….….. Debate and expression of different points of view, thus, serve an essential and healthy purpose in the functioning of Parliamentary democracy. At times such an expression of views during the debate in the House may lead to voting or abstinence from voting in the House otherwise than on party lines." [Kihoto Hollohan v. Zachillu and Others, 1992, SR(1) 686].
The manner in which government is functioning seriously undermines the concept of 'parliamentary democracy where the executive is accountable by the legislature. This is not only the hallmark of parliamentary democracy but a component of the basic structure of the Constitution of India. Scrapping the Question Hour in Monsoon Session and now scrapping entire winter session are not only against the spirit of the Parliamentary democracy but also beyond the powers of the executive and therefore unconstitutional. The executive has no power to unilaterally decide to dispense with the question hour or scrapping entire session without the sanction of the whole House. The House has to expressly sanction it through a resolution. The members of the Parliament must understand that their constitutional right is being taken away by the executive. All opposition parties must come forward for initiating a constructive dialogue in a constructive manner using constructive means.
Views are personal.
(Prof. (Dr) Yogesh Pratap Singh is Acting VC of NLU Odisha & Lokendra Malik is Advocate at the Supreme Court of India)