Underlining the role of civil society movement led by Anna Hazare in drafting the Lokpal Bill, President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday said this was the first time that a law was made with public participation, hitherto an exclusive domain of legislature.
“For the first time in Indian politics, legislation ceased to be the exclusive prerogative of federal or state legislatures. Civil society demonstrated that they play an important and effective role in the legislative process and a new dimension was added to parliamentary politics,” he said.
The President delved on the fine details and history of the Bill, which was passed recently, as he addressed students and faculty members of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi.
He said that from the 1970s, the people of India have wanted the Lokpal to become a reality.
“When Shri Anna Hazare started his agitation for a strong Lokpal, he received support from a wide spectrum of society.
No responsible and responsive government could ignore the huge public upsurge in support of the Lokpal Bill.
“That is why the Government decided to depute five senior ministers to sit down with five representatives chosen by Shri Anna Hazare and finalise a draft bill for introduction in Parliament,” he said while delivering the 10th Nehru Memorial Lecture on ‘Nehru and Parliamentary Democracy’.
Mr. Mukherjee had headed the group of ministers on Lokpal when he was the Union Finance Minister.
The agitation for the Lokpal Bill, Mr. Mukherjee said, “thus showed that civil society can also take the lead in initiating legislation.”
The President also expressed his concern over constant disruptions occurring during Parliament sessions and the “irresponsible manner in which important legislation including the Budget gets passed with hardly any discussion.”
“Dissent should be expressed with decency and within the contours and parameters of parliamentary devices. Democracy should comprise of the three Ds -- ‘Debate’, ‘Dissent’ and ‘Decision’ not ‘Disruption’,” he said.
He said that people of the country are the masters in a democratic setup.
“No one who holds any elected office, including me, has been invited by the voters to occupy that office. Each one has gone to the voters and pleaded for their votes and support. The trust placed by the people in the political system and those elected should not be betrayed,” he said.
The President had a word of advice for politicians and Parliamentarians.
“As members of different political parties, individual Parliamentarians would be guided by the policies of their respective parties. Competitive politics should not, however, result in slowing down the progress of the country or enhancing the suffering of its people.
“Most issues of development and public welfare transcend political barriers. It should not be difficult to forge consensus on such issues,” he said.
The President also expressed his concern over constant disruptions occurring during Parliament sessions.
“It is well known that despite the solid foundation laid by Nehru, Parliamentary democracy in India faces numerous challenges. In recent years, questions have been raised about the Parliament’s effectiveness.
“There has been widespread criticism of constant disruption of proceedings, low level of attendance and debate, unruly behaviour, shrinking in the number of days that the Parliament meets and the irresponsible manner in which important legislation including the Budget gets passed with hardly any discussion,” he said.
He also pointed out the new challenges for the Indian polity.
“Over the years, the single-party dominant system has shifted to a multi-party coalition system and hung parliaments, unstable coalitions as well as deep political divisions characterise the scene in centre as well as in many states. The entry of criminal elements into politics and corruption have also caused major concern.
“Further, the proliferation of the media with its constant quest for sensational news and the role played by influential civil society organisations, as in the case of the Lokpal Bill, show that many new forces are at work in Indian politics,” he said.
Mr. Mukherjee said Parliament’s work should not suffer at any cost. “...disruption of proceedings (in the Parliament) cannot and should not be tolerated under any circumstance.”