Preserve parliamentary supremacy | Opinion – analysis
Parliament’s budget session has resumed and will last a month. In general, this phase is extremely productive in terms of deliberation and discussion, debate and legislation, and for the conclusion of the budget year. Unless there are demands, the government and the Opposition, and of course the President, approach the session with sobriety and purpose.
This year may be different. The main reason will undoubtedly be the sequels of the pogrom in the streets of Delhi. After the carnage, the government has a lot to answer for. However, two days after the session, it seems that the ruling party has decided not to allow Parliament to function. Another reason, almost surreptitious, is that a radical process has begun to rewrite the rules of Rajya Sabha. This will have serious implications for Parliament and our democracy.
The story began in 2018. In that year, the president of Rajya Sabha, M. Venkaiah Naidu, formed a committee of two retired officials to study the rules and suggest possible amendments. The suggestions of the two-person committee have been submitted to the General Purposes Committee (CPG) of Rajya Sabha.
Recently, a GPC meeting was convened for this purpose. The CPG generally consists of leaders of all parties and groups in Rajya Sabha. However, this specific meeting of the CPG was not represented by the Nationalist Congress Party, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Communist Party of India. The president, fortunately, assured that these parties would be represented in future CPG meetings.
As a member representing the Trinamool Congress, the third largest party in Parliament, I am aware that the reforms to the rules of Rajya Sabha cannot be carried out quickly. These rules were written by our editors of the Constitution after much thought. The amendments also require serious analysis and discussion. The committee of two members of former bureaucrats had several rounds of consultations. I hope that the CPG is also found several times. After the GPC concludes the discussions, its report will be sent to the Rules Committee in Rajya Sabha. Eighty percent of the members of the Rules Committee belong to the dispensation of the ruling. Then he will offer his sight. The final report, formed by the Rules Committee, will be deposited on the floor of the Chamber and will be put to a vote.
This is the process. What is the content of the reforms? The government advocates changes to make the Chamber more orderly, its behavior more fluid and interruptions less frequent. On paper, these sound unacceptable. Actually, are they an attempt to silence the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha? Are they an attempt to discourage the Opposition from asking difficult questions and holding the government accountable in Parliament?
The late Arun Jaitley, a distinguished member of Rajya Sabha, defended the right to interrupt, calling it “a legitimate tactic for the Opposition to expose the government through the available parliamentary instruments at its disposal” in case “parliamentary responsibility being subverted and debated is intended to be used simply to cover parliamentary responsibility. ”He said this in August 2012. The following month, his colleague, the late Sushma Swaraj, another unconditional member of Parliament, said:” Do not allow Parliament functioning is also a form of democracy like any other form. “
What Jaitley and Swaraj suggested was that parliamentary discussion and debate were not only a function of time but also of the quality of speech. Parliamentary procedures cannot be measured in minutes and hours. They should be measured in terms of the quality of the subjects. How many issues raised by the Opposition can be discussed by the government of the National Democratic Alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the first place? In 2012, the BJP sank a full session of Parliament demanding a discussion about the coal scandal. Today, the ruling dispensation wants to make such protests and that legitimate parliamentary activism impossible. They want to deny the Opposition’s opportunities, and they want to protect the government from interrogations even though it had taken advantage of those opportunities when it was in the Opposition.
Let me cite another example. The “parliamentary strategy” is usually decoded by the parties before the session begins, while party leaders must do “tactics” on the floor of the House. A crucial tool available to members of Rajya Sabha is Rule 267. This allows members of Parliament’s opposition (MP) to highlight an important issue, by suspending all other business of the day when addressing the “hot topic” for their discussion. I came to Rajya Sabha in 2011. One of the members of the Opposition at that time is now a high profile minister. He was known to use the notices of Rule 267 very effectively. Within a year, we joke and call him the “king of 267”.
What is the status of Rule 267 now? It has been virtually abolished. The last instance of admission of a notice under Rule 267 was in November 2016. Since then, members have repeatedly filed claims for admission of notices under Rule 267, but, always, absolutely always, such demands have been rejected.
Running to the Chamber’s well is another useful parliamentary tactic. Members use it to intervene effectively, especially when they are denied the right to other tools. Moving to the Chamber’s well and using Rule 267 are well established practices of Rajya Sabha, used throughout parliamentary history by members of all political backgrounds. Any attempt to curb or eliminate such instruments is not only a violation of long-standing parliamentary conventions, but fundamentally antidemocratic.
Nor is it necessary that the rules of the two Houses reflect each other. The Constitution provides different roles and functions for the two Houses of Parliament. The rules have to support their independent character. The CPG has to preserve the unique character of Rajya Sabha by consecrating independent provisions of Lok Sabha. As Dr. S Radhakrishnan said, speaking as the first president of Rajya Sabha, “There are functions that a review chamber can fulfill fruitfully. Parliament is not only a legislative body but a deliberative one. ”
The responsibility lies with the CPG to balance the freedom of expression of parliamentarians while ensuring the proper functioning of Rajya Sabha. We must reject any change in the rules that try to reduce the freedom of expression of the members and the rights conferred on them by the Constitution. The CPG cannot use the process of changing the rules for handling and silencing the Opposition.
Derek O’Brien is the leader of the parliamentary party of the Trinamool Congress in Rajya Sabha
The opinions expressed are personal.