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Updated: August 7, 2013 15:38 IST

Parliamentary supremacy under attack

P. Rajeev
Comment (30)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
The Hindu

The executive’s attempts to circumvent the legislature and the growing influence of money power in deciding elections have eroded people’s legitimate aspirations

Parliament is the custodian of the Constitution of India. The Preamble to the Constitution proclaims the supremacy of the people of the country. They exercise their supremacy through their elected representatives who are the Members of Parliament. Nowadays, the non-functioning of Parliament is making headlines . And rightly so. The 15th Lok Sabha could be termed the least productive in the annals of Indian Parliament. As per the statistics prepared by the Lok Sabha secretariat, only 1,157 hours of sittings took place until the 12th session of the 15th Lok Sabha. This is far behind the record of the 14th Lok Sabha, which had 1,736 hours and 55 minutes of sittings. In fact, the first Lok Sabha held 677 sittings of about 3,784 hours during its 14 sessions. The story is no different in the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of Parliament. For the first time in its history, the Upper House returned the budget without any discussion.

UID bill in abeyance

However this is not the only thing corroding the functioning of democracy. The executive has taken most policy decisions without the concurrence of the supreme legislative body of our country. A classic example of this is the Aadhar, a much hyped programme of the UPA government. The Aadhar card is regarded as a pre-requisite for getting all government benefits. Without the Aadhar number, a student would not get any benefit from the Central and State governments. Direct Benefit Transfer is based on Aadhar numbers. Bank accounts are to be linked to it. But what is the legislative backing for Aadhar? The UID bill is supposed to be the law for the implementation of Aadhar. But the Parliamentary Standing Committee had submitted its reports with serious objections to most provisions of the bill. The government has kept it in cold storage and is not ready to move the bill in Parliament in any form for consideration and passing.

But Aadhar has already become a reality and an unavoidable part of the life of an Indian citizen. This covert approach of the government was also visible when it introduced the contributory pension scheme for Central and State government employees. All the State governments in our country are collecting the contribution from crores of their employees for the Pension Fund. But we find that the bill relating to it is still pending in Parliament. What is the legality of collecting hundreds of crores of rupees during all these years? These are only a few instances of the government bypassing Parliament for implementing major policy decisions.

The Constitution clearly defines and demarcates the powers of different organs of the democratic system. When Parliament passes a law, it becomes the law of the land. All citizens of the country are bound to adhere to it. But this constitutional mandate is observed more in its violation.

Unanimous decision overruled

While presenting the Union Budget 2012-13, the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had introduced retrospective taxation. Both Houses passed the Finance Bill unanimously with these provisions. But when P. Chidambaram became the Finance Minister, the scene dramatically changed. He constituted a one-man committee to review this new tax reform. Within a week of submission of the report by Parthasarathi Shome, the tax expert, the government decided to defer the retrospective taxation for three years. Can the unanimous decision of the supreme legislative body of this country be overruled by an expert?

Usurpation

Parliamentary committees are considered a miniature of Parliament. Usually, the committees consist of Members of Parliament representing most political parties. In developed democracies, only Parliament can overrule the decision of the parliamentary committees. But in India, the executive has the right to adopt or reject the recommendations of a parliamentary committee. If the government incorporates a new clause in a bill, which was not there in the original bill, it should again send it to the committee for its consideration. But contrary to this constitutional convention practised hitherto, for the first time in the history of the Indian republic, the government constituted an expert committee to evaluate the recommendations of a Parliamentary Standing Committee. To our surprise, when the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance submitted its report on Direct Tax Code, we found the Finance Ministry immediately constituting a committee on this report. Though the ministry gave some explanations when the controversy erupted, can it be considered fair or just? Was it not usurpation of parliamentary authority and a way of curbing the voice of the people?

All these are nothing but clear indications of a plan to undermine the legislative powers of Parliament. This is further highlighted in other policy issues too. Before the 1990s, the common man in India would eagerly wait before his TV set or radio for the announcement of budget proposals in order to learn about the changes in tax rates, changes in prices of different commodities, rail fares, etc. But nowadays, no one is serious about the budget. Of late, we find that not only Parliament but also the executive has no power in the pricing of petroleum products. The government has handed over the power to oil companies. According to the last Railway Budget, the train fares would be decided by a regulatory authority.

The government is now preparing to pass the Constitution Amendment Bill for Implementing Goods and Services Tax. As per the draft bill, Parliament has no power to decide the tax rates. The GST Council has the powers to decide the tax rate for the Centre and the States. With Parliament and the Legislative Assemblies having no say in these processes, would the budget become a time pass exercise? Are people’s representatives being robbed of their constitutionally conferred responsibilities? After serious protests from different sections of society, the government made a change to this clause in the bill, rendering the powers of the GST Council recommendatory. But there is little doubt that these recommendations will tie the hands of forthcoming Finance Ministers and thus lead to further dilution of the financial powers of Parliament.

Another serious threat to the parliamentary system in India is the steep decline in the representative nature of Indian society in this fundamental institution. As per Election Watch statistics, as many as 306 MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha are crorepatis. This is more than a 100 per cent increase over the 14th Lok Sabha. The average asset of an MP is nearly Rs 5.8 crore. Is it not a farce that they are the representatives of a society where the daily consumption of more than 77 per cent of people is below Rs. 20? Another statistic is that 32 per cent of the candidates who have assets of more than Rs 5 crore won in last Lok Sabha elections. The winning chance of the candidates with assets between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 5 crore is 18.5 per cent; for those with assets below Rs 10 lakh, it is only 2.6 per cent. This clearly indicates that money power is one of the major factors in the election system of a liberalised economy.

The Indian democratic system has a progressive nature up to a certain extent. But it has been attacked by the same class that runs the state. Defending the representative nature of Parliament and protecting its legislative supremacy are responsibilities to which we are constitutionally wedded. Parliament is the vehicle through which people’s aspirations and needs can be met. It is the mechanism to establish the rule of law and distributive justice. Denying and depriving it of its powers and responsibilities can only lead to the erosion of the legitimate aspirations of the people themselves.

(P. Rajeev is a Member of Parliament)

More In: Lead | Opinion

The very idea of democracy is under attack by its own institutions. Leaders are representing their party instead of people, proactive judiciary and executive, caste based elections, chaotic parliament, plethora of ordinances, regionalism etc.

from:  Shailendra Kumar
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 22:17 IST

and on all the major issues plaguing our polity, all political parties seem to be on the same side. Perhaps it's because all of them need money power of the real rulers (businessmen) of our country. That's why recently government has been so brazen in its many decisions like petroleum pricing, FDI norms etc.

from:  Gyan Prakash Singh
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 22:02 IST

Parliamentary democracy run in a autocratic way, by making parliament
miniscule while taking decisions which affects the common man. By
constituting various committees or regulatory bodies to fix prices (ex:
regulatory body to fix coal mining) government runs away form its
responsibility of ownership.

from:  Santhanakrishnan
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 21:29 IST

This is a thought provoking article by a current MP. While most of the points he highlights are relevant and should be considered, we should see the problem in a wholistic fashion. Parliamentary supremacy has not only been stampeded by the executive but also by the Judiciary, I can quote several examples including the SC judgemment in AIIMS case. It is a pity this is a case. But the root cause of the problem lies with the parliamnt. Parliament has been ineffective in running fruitful sessions. Most of the days there is no work done; for example today - the parliament is not allowed to function because of chinese incursion. After the true federal nature of our democracy evolved in the recent two decades it has been very difficult for the weak ruling coalitions, be it UPA or NDA, to carry out meaningful transactions in the parliament. But the government has to function and that is the reason the executive and judiciary are jumping in. ALL MPs please work!

from:  Dr. S. Vijayakumar
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 19:23 IST

the leaders will wake up when the elections are approaching ....when they won in the elections they think that there are 5 years to rob and enjoy the people money without doing service to the people...the change should come at all levels.....than only the real leaders will rise..

from:  sukumar
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 19:19 IST

constitution says of the people ,for the people,by the people but it moving towards "off" the people ,"far" the people ,"buy" the people.

from:  manohar
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 18:36 IST

Even public policy making is also not happening correctly, govt is not taking the considerations of all sections of parties,state legislative take the example of NCTC,jet ethihad deal,and many more . I think we are sending wrong signals to the outside world and the output is current state of the economy.I think the author here is missing actual root cause, which is leading to parliamentary supremacy crisis , the root cause is efficient public policy making

from:  manohar
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 18:34 IST

Clearly the high elite class is making mockery of aam aadmi. The upa has been a monster for the country in its second term.more depressing is the tolerance level of other parties who after protesting to some extent collaborate with upa for monetary benefits leaving behind the aspirations and need of people who selected them as their representatives.

from:  Nikhil
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 17:10 IST

Our country is failing to identify the TRUE leaders who strive for people's welfare is bcuz of the "attitude of people". Its not the leaders should be changed but the people, their attitude. Especially youth should be trained and moulded........

from:  Srirangagurram
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 15:35 IST

I accept rajeev's view except in two issues he mentioned. first, regarding GST council, which includes all state finance ministers as its member and central finance minister as its chairman and of course they are representatives of people. When GST affects whole nation(means all states), don't we think every state has to say in that matter and does it not represent federal nature of nation?
second, regarding stastics provided on MP's having asset more than 5crore, here also I want to emphasize that mere having asset, doesn't mean MP'S will not serve poor people or to represent will of the people. It all depends on his integrity,compassion towards marginalised section. can it not be questioned a business person who earns crores does not have a right to become MP eventhough he was elected in fair manner?

from:  rajathkumar
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 14:51 IST

Actually the parliamentarians are custodians of constitution will suit
only before a decade ago alone. You could see the present
parliamentarians does not know the constitution and as well as its
amendments therein. All are new comers with the multifarious
backgrounds of illegal activities. How could we expect a good
parliament run with them. So a good code of conduct should be there,
and even if Supreme Court suggests something these so called MPs
reject without knowing its importance. So this is our fate as long as
the present generation elect with a reputed code of conduct.

from:  narayanan
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 14:51 IST

Political parties have long forgotten that they are representing people
and they are 'of', 'by' and 'for' the people. They only think that they
need to get there as they need POWER. The all problem lies in 'VIP'
status of a politician. if he is treated as common man...much of
problems would get solved.

from:  surya
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 14:50 IST

This article reminds me the thoughts of Robert Mitchell that in the
name of democracy the state is being run by a small group of people.
This is the time to get out of the stream line we are running through,
to attain the spirit of democracy which is only been defined and
described in the books of the country. This is the time to save the
spirit of the constitution given by our fore fathers with a vision of
empowering every individual in the country. This is the time to save
the country from the unanimous control of some small group over the
people and its representatives which should have been the other way
around. And this is the time to strengthen ourselves to strengthen the
institutions provided by the constituion of India.

from:  Raja
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 14:25 IST

The pivot of our great democracy is the parliament which clearly was
set up to represent the people and its candidates were chosen by the
people. Each and every major decision that effects the well being of
the people of this nation is supposed to be adequately debated in this
“temple of people” before being enacted in any form. The current
government has completely forgotten it and is deliberately violating
this basic preamble of our Constitution. By dastardly bypassing the
most basic tenet of any democracy by passing legislative decisions
just on its own accord. Does this government think that the citizens
of this nation are puppets at their hand. Has this democracy set a
course to become a Stalinist state where the government is allowed to
make amends at their behest. And parliament remains just to be mocked
as it is being mocked as of now.

from:  Govind
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 14:08 IST

Rather than posting anything which shows my annoyance and frustration over the
governance , which being an Indian citizen is getting obvious and progressive day by
day , i would simply say in the present situations its good to see an article like this
coming from an MP.
But Sir action speaks louder than words.

from:  Rishi
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 13:19 IST

I remember the same, sitting in front of TV when budget was used to be
announced about 4 5 years back, always had been excited to hear the
prices of which commodity is going to decrease or increase, but if the
scenario is same as mentioned by author it is disheartening. Thinking
practically, Earlier senior leader's work used to be measured in number
of hours they spent in parliament passing bills and policies, but as
the number of hours of parliament session have been reduced
exceptionally, the leaders are getting government income as free (apart
from corrupted income)

from:  Anurag
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 11:56 IST

Party whip is one of the root cause for this kind of attack on parliametary supremacy. It is the MP who passed the bill tp make it a law. And most MP will be from ruling party, any aggitation to speak against ministers can turn against them. Hence this problem.

from:  Srenivasa Prasanna
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 11:22 IST

I completely agree with the writer. In a Parliamentary Democracy,
Parliament should be the law making authority and not the Executive.

from:  gaurav
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 10:23 IST

A very interesting article. this coming from a sitting MP shows that
even in parliament, you need more clout. our current form democracy
has been reduced to politicians using their 5 year term to make a
windfall gain & income to them & their generations to come. The entire
political class is only interested in making money at any cost and
they just dont have time to govern. thats why we see lot of sub
committees,standing committees etc which are all ineffective
delegations done by MPs so that they can focus on their key & only
agenda of making money.

Our country needs more representation at the parliament and voices
should be heard. we seldom used referendums in our democracy on
crucial matters. It's time we take a fresh relook at our constitution
and the procedures in line with the current nation demography to have
more inclusive porcess of decision making by public

from:  Ram
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 10:20 IST

Exellent analysis of present realities.this should be criticised but auther did not suggest any sulution or remedy to this .
One positive thing is we still have some sensible mps who can grasps realities but also expect suggesion of remedies for this.

from:  Mahesh Sawant
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 10:18 IST

This is as expected. Politics has become a profession to make
money. Dynasties follow the profession. In 6 decades after
gaining independence the politicians ensured that a large number
of people are poor and uneducated/illeducated. Their votes can
be got by bribing with cash/liquor. Thistend was started by the
Congress when one Mr.Gadgil pribed people with a quarter of a
rupee to get their vote. This practice still continues. However as
more people are getting educated and the asking rate has gone
up (Rs.1500/- for a vote in Panchayat elections in AP), the
politicians are now trying to reduce the powers of Parliament. By
these means they only become sanctioning authorities for
projects and do not make laws. Ultimately the Parliament may
become an institution to give Ministers and power to them. he
aam admi can be the exploited.

from:  S N IYER
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 09:48 IST

It's disheartening to hear the news of parliament not functional to its normal hours. In fact this has become a routine for the past few years. All the political parties need to take the cognisance of the disappointment of the Indian voter and set straight the functioning of both the houses. This will indirectly solve many of the problems the author is worried of.

from:  Muthu
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 09:40 IST

Dear sir why are you crying when your area is encroached by the executive, where were you when you all made the consensus to overrule the apex court decision to nullify the RPA act which is in the favour of demos of the country? Why you all have made the consensus to overrule the CIC decision? In today’s scenario we the people has to be blamed for selecting todays parliamentarian who are truly the representatives of capitalist not of the down rotten class of this country. The way you people behave in the parliament is even worse than the children of under 10 who behave when their teacher is not in the class, while watching debate in parliament (which I think I forgot when actually happen) we doesn’t sit along with over children as if they will ask who are they what will we say that these are over representative. Whenever there is a law to maintain the decorum of the parliament you all become the same & unanimously oppose that. God is running the parliament not the legislator.

from:  Rinku yadav
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 09:37 IST

With utmost frustation and dismay only,we may recall objections to Anna's call by the ruling establishment preaching the nation of supremacy of Parliament.
A glaring example of double standard.

from:  BMPrasad.
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 09:36 IST

This is an interesting opinion but should work be left in abeyance thanks to non functioning parliament or work to continue with distribution of powers to relevant exevutive authorities like rail tariff authority etc.

from:  Sunil
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 09:14 IST

To the MP...May be you should get your basic high school civics
right...No one leg of the democracy is more supreme than the other.
One of the basic fundamentals of a democracy is Balance of Power
Between the Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary.

We have seen 40 years of what 'Legislatures supremacy' has achieved
for this country.

Enough is enough and please stop being megalomaniacs in the name of
public representatives!

You are Peoples Servants and not the other way around.

from:  Sriram Bhupathiraju
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 08:59 IST

It is part of history of even USA that the when the legislature or the executive has become weak, judiciary has arrogated to itself more powers. It is but natural that there will be an institutional conflict. When the Parliamentarians squabble and waste the precious time of the highest legislature in the country for petty mythical gains, they have to pay for it. After all some body has to run the show, God forbid the army!! You asked for it and you got it. Whom are you blaming?

from:  Dr V Nageswara Rao
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 08:09 IST

Shri P. Rajeev has raised a pertinent point about whether Parliament is presently a true representative of the Indian citizenry in microcosm as the Constitution of India originally envisaged. If about 60% are parliamentarians are "crorepati" as Shri Rajeev notes and about 30% are said to have previous criminal records, obviously many people would begin to doubt the representative character. Add to that the loss of time for debate and discussions due to repeated adjournments of the sessions. It is time that our Parliamentarians put their house in order

from:  Prosenjit Das Gupta
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 06:37 IST

Good Article. It is unfortunate to know that too many crorepati's entering the politics. These people are concerned only in multiplying their money or protecting their assets. The best way they can do is to enter politics. I don't understand why our country fails to identify the true leaders who strive for people's welfare. People attitude should be changed in electing their representatives. Caste, Religion, money power are playing a big role in elections.

from:  navin
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 06:01 IST

It is condemnable that the Executive takes decisions without the consent
of the Parliament and overuling the enactments of the legislature. Many
contracts and treaties are made without taking the consent of the
Parliament. State Governments are in no way better. People,s voice is
not heard.

from:  ssrajagopalan
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 05:11 IST
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