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Monday, January 18, 2021

How the recent Parliamentary scuffle questions India’s democratic checks and balances

As we all know, parliament is the heart of democracy. However, there is a specific pattern by which the current ruling government has been acting to restrict democratic voices and shut down uncomfortable questions about its policymaking. The recent scuffle at the monsoon session of Parliament – the first after the Coronavirus pandemic hit India in March happened as it was decided to be held without Question Hour.

For the last few years, criticism has poured in against the Modi government of dangerously centralising power and trying to bypass democratic checks and balances. The recent episode highlights this phenomenon even more. These episodes question India’s democratic checks and balances. Let’s see how.

According to the universally accepted explanation, Question Hour “is a segment of a parliament session during which MPs are allowed to ask questions of the government. Like much of parliamentary procedure, the practice has been borrowed from the United Kingdom. It was in place even before Independence in the legislatures of British India.” Question Hour basically is a tactic of how the government is kept in check. In India, as well as in other parliamentary democracies that have been inspired by the UK model, Question Hour is an integral part of parliamentary conduct, allowing every elected representative to make the government more responsive, accountable and ask sensible questions about its shortcomings.

While COVID-19 has made a phenomenal circumstance, blaming the pandemic solely so as to abridge Question Hour has neither rhyme nor reason. In the event that several parliamentarians can meet and the administration can complete its business, unquestionably a way can be found for MPs to pose inquiries and the legislature to answer them. It may, for instance, be noticed that the Union government is proceeding with to a great extent unnecessary activities, for example, modernising New Delhi. Unquestionably if the enormous scope of design plans can be drawn up and executed, civil servants can likewise play out the essential role of reacting to inquiries by MPs.

Farmers Bill

The Rajya Sabha on Sunday passed the Farmers’ and Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020. The Bills were passed by voice vote amid massive uproar by the opposition, which has said that it will not sign a “death warrant” on farmers.

TMC leader Derek O’Brien demanded that the Bills should be sent to a select committee. “These bills need to be debated in Parliament. You have the numbers to have your way and we have the right to have our say and to keep you on track of Parliamentary democracy. This is a very very dangerous trend we are following. The select committee is not a hand brake…it is there to contribute. I am going to move select committee,” he said. “The PM said the opposition is trying to mislead the farmers. Let us see what credibility you have to make these speeches. You promised to double farmers’ income by 2022. At the current rate, the farmer incomes would not double till 2028,” he said. Also stating that the government promised two crore jobs every year, he said: “Now you have the highest unemployment.”

Countering the Opposition’s views, Union minister Smriti Irani told ANI that the agriculture bills allow the farmers to trade their produce freely. “It secures the farmers’ land and ensures that traders have to mandatorily pay farmers within maximum three days,” she adds. “Then, why is the Opposition opposing these bills?” She added, “Narendra Modi Ji in his six years as PM has worked in the interest of the nation, not for political gains. In 2014 & 2019, Modi Ji had promised to make India middlemen-free. Congress in its 10 years in power didn’t implement Swaminathan Report. Modi Govt implemented the report & gave 1.5 times higher MSP. Under Kisan Samman Nidhi Scheme, more than Rs 90,000 Cr was transferred into the accounts of more than 10 Cr farmers.”

A washed-out meeting

Take the tumultuous meeting of India’s Parliament that finished on Wednesday. It was a basic meeting, the first after the COVID-19 pandemic hit India. Besides, the nation is getting rocked by many grave issues: from India’s ever-rising COVID chart to an extraordinary monetary collide with the Chinese armed force meddling into parts of Ladakh. Like never before, India was looking to its chosen agents in the parliament to talk about its issues and consider the legislature answerable for any omissions.
Be that as it may, Parliament ended up tottered even before it met. The Modi government concluded that the rainstorm meeting of Parliament would be held without Question Hour, the section of a parliament meeting during which MPs are permitted to pose inquiries of the legislature. The legislature asserted that Question Hour requires the presence of countless officials in Parliament to brief ministers and would in this way disregard the Coronavirus protocols in place. Taking into account that many MPs were meeting, at any rate, it was an irregular reason. It was considerably more bizarre given this is 2020 thus quite a bit of government work far and wide is as of now being done by means of innovation like video conferencing.

Opposition behaviour

Amid a heated debate in the Rajya Sabha against crucial farm bills, which cleared the parliament recently, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien attempted to tear the rule book and snatch off Deputy Chairman Harivansh Narayan’s microphone. He was seen rushing to the well of the house to register his protest against the centre and the bills. “This is the brutal murder of the parliamentary democratic system,” the Trinamool Congress MP said amid the high drama, which eventually led to a 10-minute adjournment of the house. The chaos was said to have unfolded in the upper house of the parliament soon after the Trinamool Congress MP’s remarks on the controversial bills in the parliament. Later, while speaking to NDTV, he said: “I did not tear the rule book. You have seen the footage… I will resign as an MP. The government didn’t have numbers.. yet they broke rules to get the bills cleared. We have moved a notice to pass a resolution against the Deputy Chairman.”

All of these incidents that happened in the Parliament recently only made it clearer how the checks and balances have gone haywire. Indian democracy is surely in trouble and its evident.

 

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