“The role and functions of an Assembly can be described as three Ds - debate, dissent and decision”
President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday came down heavily on the growing trend of disruption of proceedings of Parliament and State Assemblies and the declining importance given to debates on Finance Bills.
Participating in the diamond jubilee celebration at the elegantly-decorated Assembly Chamber in Fort St. George here, Mr. Mukherjee said every legislator should ensure that the content and the quality of debates were befitting their status as people’s representatives. “The role and functions of an Assembly can be described as three Ds – debate, dissent and decision. The fourth ‘D,’ that is, ‘disruption’ should be strictly avoided,” he said, adding that “disruption should never be used as a strategy.”
He noted that “dissent is a recognised democratic expression but it should be expressed with decency and within the contours and parameters of parliamentary practices, norms and conventions. The cardinal principle of effective functioning of a Parliamentary system is that majority will rule and minority will oppose, expose and if possible, depose. But this should be done within the framework of rules framed by Legislatures themselves.”
It was members of the legislature, both at the Centre and in States, who framed rules for the conduct of business. If they felt that the rules had to be flexible enough, they could amend the rules. But, after having amended the rules, they should not violate them. This was not expected of elected representatives of people.
Deviating in many places from his prepared speech, the President said the amount of time spent on debates on budgets was inadequate even though there had been a “phenomenal change” in the financial responsibility of the executive. Recalling that the total outlay of free India’s first Union budget was Rs. 293 crore, he said it was Rs. 12 lakh crore, as per the budget presented by him [as Union Finance Minister] early this year. The amount of time devoted for discussion on budgets, demand for grants of various departments and the passage of Finance Bills was “quite inadequate.”
It was in this context he suggested that meetings of Parliament and State Assemblies should be held at least for one half of the year.
He also voiced his concern over the re-promulgation of ordinances after the legislature did not approve such ordinances.
Mr. Mukherjee, who laid the foundation stone for a hostel for former legislators, received the first copy of the diamond jubilee souvenir from Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.
Governor K. Rosaiah said several landmark legislations, introduced in the House, covered pioneering schemes in the areas of social justice, eradication of untouchability, women and child welfare and education.
They had well represented hopes and aspirations of people of the State. He also emphasised that “accommodation and consensus make a healthy democracy. Discipline and decorum form the basic foundation of Parliamentary and Legislative democracy.”
The Chief Minister, who traced the history of the State legislature starting from the Regulating Act of the 18th century, said many historic unanimous resolutions had been passed in the House. “This Assembly has been graced by stalwarts who steered the course of history. It has a long list of illustrious Speakers who helped preserve the sanctity of the traditions of the House.”
Talking of the importance of Fort St. George which had been the seat of power since colonial times, Ms. Jayalalithaa said it was around the Fort that Chennai grew. “The core of the present Secretariat building still has parts surviving from 1693 when the original Fort House was pulled down and the complex metamorphosed into Fort St. George.” She also explained how the Fort had been the home of legislature ever since 1921 when the Legislative Council, a precursor to the Assembly, was constituted.
Chief Justice of Madras High Court M.Y. Eqbal said that “in Tamil Nadu, the Legislature and the Executive on the one side, and the Judiciary on the other side, have had a peaceful co-existence with each other.”
At the beginning of the function, a silent homage was paid to former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral who died in Gurgaon earlier in the day.