There is no sanctity to law-making in India. Neither in the process nor in politics. This was on full display during the debate and passage of the two agricultural Bills in the Rajya Sabha, and the subsequent suspension of eight MPs. Opposition MPs were demanding that the two contentious Bills be examined by a select committee of the House. With MPs trooping into the well of the House, raising slogans, papers were thrown at the Deputy Chairman Harivansh who was presiding over the House.
During the debate on the two Bills in Lok Sabha, the government ignored the demands of the Opposition for referring them to a Parliamentary Committee. And it was in no mood to refer them to a select committee of the Rajya Sabha.
The responsibility for making laws rests with the people’s representatives in Parliament. This responsibility has two elements. The first is the careful scrutiny of the law to determine whether the government’s proposal addresses a particular problem or not and simultaneously ensure that in the process of fixing one problem, it doesn’t create another. The second element is debate on the floor of Parliament, both on merit and ideology. Both these elements complement each other. The sharp debate on the floor of Parliament cannot replace the careful analysis done by Parliamentary Committees, which act as a bridge between Parliament and people.
The mockery of these two elements did not occur for the first time in the Rajya Sabha.
Also read: With song, slogans & mosquito repellents, 8 suspended MPs complete nightlong Parliament dharna
The weight of vote
Last year, after the general elections, the Rajya Sabha had witnessed snatching of papers and sloganeering on the amendment to the Right to Information Bill. However, things did not escalate much and voting could take place. The government was able to win that vote after the Congress party had walked out in protest. Asking for votes to be recorded is a right of every Member of Parliament (MP). It accomplishes two things. First, it allows MPs to record their stand publicly on a particular issue. Second, it tests the numbers of the ruling and the Opposition alliance on the floor of the House.
But the votes on referring Bills to committees are contentious because the government has bypassed the scrutiny of Bills by such panels. In the current Lok Sabha, 17 Bills have been referred to Parliamentary Committees. But no government Bills have been referred to a committee this year. In the 16th Lok Sabha (2014-19) 25 per cent of the Bills introduced were referred to committees. This number was much lower than 71 per cent and 60 per cent in the 15th (2009-14) and 14th (2004-09) Lok Sabha, respectively.
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Why scrutiny is important
A recent select committee of the Rajya Sabha was examining the law to regulate surrogacy in the country. As part of its scrutiny of the Bill, the committee travelled to four cities to understand the intricacies of surrogacy. It met with representatives of different groups and heard the testimony of the National Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and multiple state governments along with the government department piloting the Bill. Based on its own study, evidence and feedback from experts and citizens, the committee suggested certain changes to the government’s Bill.
But for many years, our Parliament has focussed only on debating laws, without them being examined by Parliamentary Committees. The reason for Parliament’s one-sided focus is because its rules require that all Bills follow a process of debate and passing by both Houses. But these rules do not provide that every Bill should be referred to a Parliamentary Committee. As a result, fewer legislative proposals of the government are being examined by these committees.
So, in a nutshell, all laws do not receive the same amount of parliamentary attention. A few undergo rigorous scrutiny by Parliamentary Committees. Others are passed with just a simple debate on the floor of the House. When the treasury and Opposition agree, even the most far-reaching laws are passed by Parliament with alacrity. When there is disagreement on politically contentious Bills such as the two Bills related to agriculture, then the swift passage results in unruly scenes in Parliament. The outweighing factor is the government’s urgency in enacting a particular legislation. When the government is in a hurry, even Bills amending the Constitution can be passed in two to three days.
When Parliamentary Committees do not scrutinise Bills, it increases the chances of the country being saddled with half-baked laws. These, then, have to be brought back to Parliament for changes to be made to them. But a large country like ours cannot afford to have a hurriedly made law. The cost to the nation is not only the time and resources of Parliament in changing the law. A hurriedly made law has an opportunity and financial cost to the entire nation.
Also read: PM Modi says farm bills are need of 21st century India, assures mandis & MSP will stay
How the govt can do better
The first step in strengthening the law-making process starts with the government. The machinery of the government has to be proactive and not reactive while making laws. This will allow the government to introduce its legislative proposals in time for comprehensive parliamentary scrutiny. The government will also be able to, then, inform Parliament of the time frame in which it would like the House’s approval on its proposal. The government will also have to provide Parliament with supporting documents, data and analysis for MPs to be able to make an informed decision on its legislative proposals.
For example, the government has recently introduced three labour Bills in Parliament. They are replacing the three labour Bills that were scrutinised by the Parliamentary Committee on labour. The committee had made certain recommendations, some of which have been accepted and incorporated by the government in the new Bills. But the government has not put before Parliament a comparison indicating which of the committee’s recommendations it has accepted and the new provisions it has brought in the new Bill. This then makes the job of members of Parliament difficult when they have to debate and vote on hundreds of clauses of the Bills.
Parliament also has to play a role in strengthening the law-making process. It has to overhaul its rules to ensure that all Bills that are introduced by the government go through timely scrutiny by Parliamentary Committees. This would ensure that Bills are not stalled in committees and the government can have a time table for the clearance of its legislative agenda. In addition, it has to augment the human resources of its committees, so that these bodies can deal with the increasing complexity of subjects being brought before them. If our Parliament does not change its rules for legislative scrutiny by committees, it would slowly start losing its relevance and end up becoming a rubber stamp to government Bills.
The author is the Head of legislative and civic engagement, PRS Legislative Research. Views are personal.
Congratulations to the government on finishing business in Rajyasabha .
FOR too long jihadist and proselytizers have controlled government agenda.
Parliaments SCs have only been used to delay the passage of crucial bills. What if opposition recommendation were not included even in SC? Then again they would have retorted to hooliganism saying our recommendation, however ludicrous, were not considered. So we will tear books and uproot mics.
Opposition knows that if these bills really improve the earnings of the farmers, they will be left with no face to go to the farmers in the next election. What were they doing for 60 yrs that Modi could manage in 6 yrs for farmers? That is the question they dread and if Modi becomes the messiah of farmers, they can kiss goodbye to coming to power for next 15 yrs. If they really cared about the farmers they would have implemented the Swaminathan commision recommendations themselves instead of sitting on it for 10 yrs of UPA.
I dont want to see opposition being becoming irrelevant, but they are so inept and talentless that it makes you wish they better become irrelevant and let the government carry on its work. They better be in gardens of parliament then inside it.
If Rahul Gandhi was so concerned about farmers and the murder of democracy for the thousandth time, why was he in the US and not on the streets with the farmers?
All 3 comments above by “andhbhakts”. Modi, rushing bills in parliament, raises suspicions. People have become aware of Modi’s lies & jumlas. For all his positive rhetoric on Farmers bill, people aren’t willing to take his word for granted. Modi, those days are passe.
If we had bad governments in non bjp for decades we will have now an arrogant government for another equal no of decades. When in majority why they fear debates parliamentary committees scrutinies ? Because arrogance makes one think that what they think is right. Well, we just have to. put up some decades of some other kind of torture
The opposition to Three farm bill is superfluous . Were farmer life was better in earlier or existing regime? If so ,, why So many Farmers were committing suicides on regular basis ? Why farmer were/ are asking for Government support and subsidies all the times ? Congress regime worked only for a particular family interests and used to throw some crumbs to its crony- followers and easily saleable specie called left , liberal, lutyne journalists. These bills envisage a new farm-sector marketing mechanism without abolishing old one. It enhances the opportunities for marketing to farm sector . Let it be given a try . if Found wanting can be abolished at very next possible opportunity.
One supposes that “rushing to the well of the house with slogans and tearing up order papers” are actions deserving applause and national awards !!!!
Modi has mastered the skills of taking decisions without wasting time and allowing opposition to sabotage. Modi haters look like pygmies of 20th century who are unable to come to terms with the Indian voters having powered by social media on mobile. Survival of the fittest is in full play in politics. Those who can read the present and future will survive, the rest will disappear weeping, crying and scolding Modi.
Is hast illegal? Then please sue Govt. in SC of India. Otherwise join most of Indians in fast delivery of promises and landmark victory of Indian farmers.
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