What’s wrong with Parliament?

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‘Penalising MPs who don’t allow the House to function may help’

Members of the Parliament should discuss issues on the floor of the House and allow the government to reply, Jayaprakash Hegde, Congress Lok Sabha MP from Udupi, tells G Vishnu

Jayaprakash Hegde, Photo courtesy: jayaprakashhegde.com
Jayaprakash Hegde, Photo courtesy: jayaprakashhegde.com

Due to the daily impasse in Parliament many important bills are stuck. Will you as a MP take responsibility?

What I want is the Opposition to let the issues be discussed. We should discuss the issues on the floor of the house, allow the government to reply. At least people should be aware why the Opposition is agitating. From day one, there was the Telangana issue. The House did not function for the first six days. After that, there has been only one session where there’s been discussion. Adjournments have become far too common.

We have seen a steady decline in the working hours of Parliament. What do you think should be done? What’s the remedy?

Those who are not allowing the Parliament to run should realise that the people are watching us. In a democracy, they are at liberty to do what they want. But this should not come at a public cost. First, they should allow important issues to be discussed; questions and answers are extremely important. If no business is carried out in the Parliament, I am definitely ashamed as an MP, a representative.

How do we remedy this? Do we bring in rules?

I think the media should really project what people think of adjournments. If members are made to realise that people appreciate what we are doing, it will help a great deal.

As far as rules go, do we penalise the MPs?

I think there could be a solution if the members who agitate are asked to withdraw. This is my personal opinion. Punishment or penalising MPs, once or twice, will help a great deal. This is my personal opinion.

Absenteeism is a big issue. Even Rahul Gandhi is known for absenteeism…

I cannot speak for others. I think a lot of MPs are busy with work in their constituencies or other party work.

Do you think political parties should come under the ambit of RTI?

I have no issues regarding that. The Election Commission anyway keeps a check on political parties. However, I personally have no issues if are parties are brought under RTI.

You don’t think politics will suffer if parties are brought under RTI?

The problem with RTI is that it does not complete the picture by itself. There have been instances where, without trial, media has held individuals guilty. Media trial is also very harmful. Once the damage is done, things cannot be set right even by the media. Therefore, RTI has its advantages and there are disadvantages too. One request to the media is not to jump to any conclusion. The principle of natural justice should be followed.


 

‘Most disruptions stem from not reworking the discussion avenues in Parliament’

Baijayant Panda, Biju Janata Dal Lok Sabha MP for Kendrapada constituency in Odisha, says that systemic flaws in the Parliament’s functioning allows members to disrupt proceedings. Stressing on doing away with parliamentary procedures inherited from the pre-independence era, he tells Ushinor Majumdar about ways in which the ruling party can be confronted, without disruptive outbursts in Parliament

Baijayant 'Jay' Panda MP, BJD
Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda MP, BJD

If you look at my record in Parliament (either as a Rajya Sabha MP for nine years or as a Lok Sabha MP since 2009), I have never disrespected the rules of the House or disrupted its proceedings, and have frequently written op-eds against disruptions. However, I agree that the duty to make Parliament function is the collective responsibility of all the members. If some MPs disagree with certain decisions of the government, it is the collective responsibility of the members of the House to rework the rules to provide these MPs with avenues for discussion. Most disruptions stem from the lack of such avenues.

In the midst of a steady decline in the working hours of the Parliament and the blame game between the government and the Opposition, work suffers. Is there a way out?

Many Indians are dismayed at the logjam in Parliament and disgusted at what they see as politicians’ self-serving attitudes. They are right, of course, but only partially. In addition to MPs’ attitudes, a large part of the problem is due to inherited systemic flaws that need to be addressed. Few Indians recognise that even today, 65 years after independence, India’s parliamentary rules contain vestiges of the British Raj that are now unworkable. The result is a continuation of pre-independence style confrontationist politics, with the Opposition’s options being either total capitulation or total obstruction, without a viable middle ground.

One big example, and the one that is at the root of most disruptions in Parliament today, has to do with how debates and other motions are admitted. Decisions on such matters are based on the consensus arrived at by the Business Advisory Committee, which includes the leaders of all major parties in Parliament. The operative word is “consensus”. Invariably, the ruling party of the day withholds its consent to admit topics that might embarrass it. This gives the ruling party an effective veto over the business of the House and leaves the opposition powerless to raise issues inconvenient for the government. This is in stark contrast to the UK that reserves 20 days in each session for Opposition parties to choose the business to be discussed.

A further twist is that the ruling party often agrees to admit a plain vanilla discussion (where it can smile away even compelling arguments), rather than one that entails a vote (where it could get embarrassed at getting less support than it had claimed). This has been the single-most frequent reason for disruptions in Parliament.

There is an urgent need to replace the existing procedure with one that respects the voice of the minority. For instance, if 33% of MPs demand a voting motion, there ought to be one.

Don’t you think that functioning of the Parliament is essential to a healthy democracy?

Yes, of course. A functioning Parliament is extremely essential for debate and deliberation and for keeping the government in check. Media debates cannot do justice to the breadth and depth of deliberations in Parliament and the spectrum of viewpoints represented in the House.

I have always firmly maintained that disruption is not the solution to disagreements between the government and the Opposition. In fact, by disrupting the House, parties lose the opportunity to either defend themselves against charges or distinguish themselves from the rest as the viable, untainted alternative.

Do you think that punishment should be given to MPs disrupting the proceedings by coming to the well of the House?

Yes, the Speaker or the Vice President (as the case may be) should set aside political considerations and impose the rules of the House by taking strict disciplinary measures against errant MPs. In failing to do so, they only promote such unruly behaviour.

Several times, there have been all-party resolutions committing to proper parliamentary functioning as well as authorising the Speaker to take appropriate steps to ensure that. All that remains is the actual implementation.

Do you approve of political parties being kept out of the Right to Information Act?

I have taken a very clear stand on the issue. I strongly support the need for transparency in financial dealings of political parties. Parties must disclose the sources of their funds as well as the manner in which they spend them. Ideally this should be done through mandatory audits of party accounts and monitoring by the Election Commission, which is the appropriate constitutional body for it. However, until such provisions are introduced, I support the inclusion of political parties under RTI.


 

dinesh

‘RTI for political parties is a must’

Trinamool Congress MP Dinesh Trivedi tells Ashhar Khan that if you are in the public light, there is nothing called a private life

Daily adjournments in Parliament have stalled discussions on many important bills. As a Member of Parliament, would you say you should be held accountable for this?

Parliament does not belong to individual members; it is run by the leaders of individual parties. I remember in 1990 when I came to the Parliament for the first time, even one MP walking out would have become a big item in the newspaper. If the entire party walked out, it would be the top headline. Today if the Parliament doesn’t function, I can tell you without fear of contradiction that democracy is almost at a standstill. This is the place where you have to debate, you have to discuss, where the aspirations of the people are sent. But at the same time I think it is the responsibility of this so-called ruling party to make sure that enough space is given to all of them. But unfortunately I’ve seen that in recent times, it’s only a few people who get this opportunity. Now that’s not the fault of the Speaker or the Chairman, it is the party which is responsible. I think somewhere down the line this needs to be very seriously taken up and I think we all are at fault.

There has also been a steady decline in the number of working hours of the Parliament.

Oh yes, absolutely! But the fact is that the working hours which are slated, are also not being utilised. So one way of looking at it is that the Parliament is not functioning at all and so much of the tax payer’s money (including mine, I’m also a taxpayer) is wasted. We might as well have a solution. If we don’t have a solution, don’t waste the money! So there are two ways of looking at it.

Don’t you think there is a need to move beyond the constant blame-game between the government and the opposition?

That is why I said, we all are responsible. The government has a bigger responsibility. Much bigger in the sense that they have to be accommodating. If there are issues involved which are of very serious nature, then obviously Members of Parliament will get agitated. I think the time has come where we should do away with the whip. Whips should be only called for during a Financial Bill, otherwise we should be free to talk about any subject of any bill from our conscious rather than always taking the party line. Parliament is a place where there has to be absolutely free and fair debate without having any kind of pressure.

But very often, when a bill is being introduced by the government, the opposition holds it to ransom.

I’ll give you an example. Let’s say the Food Security Bill or the Women’s Reservation Bill, they are very important bills. I totally agree that sometimes, they don’t want to give credit. You know when politically, on some bill, the government might seem to be gaining. But that’s a very petty way of looking at it. I’m not suggesting it is there, but this could be one of the reasons. And if so, I think it’s a sad case.

What about members who constantly come shouting to the well of the Parliament. What do you think needs to be done for that?

I can only tell you about myself. I have been a Member of Parliament from 1990. I’ve never ever been to the well of the House ever and I can tell you for sure that I will never ever do that. I think it’s the pressure, whether of the television, media, I don’t know what it is, but people feel that this is the best way to score points. But this is wrong and counterproductive. I don’t think citizens, even people watching at the village level, want this sort of stuff. They want a debate. So earlier, you could not even raise a badge, you could not even read. You are not supposed to be reading your speech. You are supposed to be having a point and talking from your heart. Today everybody does anything. It is sad and I hope that we can all sit together and sort this issue out. It is a dangerous signal and message for democracy.

What are your views as far as RTI for political parties is concerned?

RTI for political parties is a must. If we collect money from the people, we have to be transparent. I don’t know why we should run away. We should answer all the questions, the public has the right. Because what are we? Political parties are nothing but representatives of the people – for the people, of the people, by the people. If you disregard the queries of the people, it means you are not being democratic. You have to answer all the questions. There’s no question about it. I will even go one step further. Why cover just a party? Individual members of the Parliament must also come under the ambit, provided there’s some infrastructure. I am a MP but I may not have the infrastructure to answer the questions. But if there is an infrastructure given to MPs by the government, people can ask questions to the MPs as well – what’s your income etc. If you are in the public light, there is nothing called a private life. If you are not comfortable with this, then you get out of public light. You see, if there is too much heat in the kitchen and you do not like the heat, then you get out of the kitchen.


‘The economy is sluggish, industrial production is negative and employment rate is zero, what do you expect the opposition to do?’

Rajiv-Pratap-Rudy01

BJP MP Rajeev Pratap Rudy tells Ushinor Majumdar that they cannot let the government go scot-free on charges of corruption

Due to the daily impasse in Parliament many important bills are stuck. Will you as an MP take responsibility?

I don’t think bills are getting stuck. There were three bills taken up today and one passed yesterday, but that is a different issue. As far as the political tremors are concerned, the issue of corruption is being raised. We cannot let the Congress have its way. We’re allowing legislation to take place. As far as our job is concerned, which is to pass legislation – that is being taken care of. But, we cannot let the government go scot-free on charges of corruption.

We have seen a steady decline in the working hours of parliament. What do you think should be done?

It’s for the government of the day to see. They should not create more issues. If there are more issues and corruption and they don’t have the numbers, then the government doesn’t have the credibility. The UPA survives with the support of bare minimum of 21 MPs from BSP and 22 MPs from SP, who are fighting with each other in UP. The economy is sluggish, industrial production is negative and employment rate is zero, what do you expect the opposition to do?

Don’t you think that functioning of parliament is essential to a healthy democracy?

The government should be credible enough to run the parliament. It should not be unilateral.

There is a blame game going on between the govt and opposition but the work suffers. Is there a way out of this deadlock?

So, can everything wrong with the economy and corruption be attributed to the non-functioning of the parliament? That is the forum for cornering the government and they don’t have any answer to many of the issues. There is an issue of forgery of the son-in-law [of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi: Robert Vadra] and you want to debate in parliament. But, they don’t allow it then what do you do?

Do you think that the working time of the parliament should be increased?

There are ample days if the government wants and parliament runs for six months at an overall average. The government is on its last leg and they want to push bills and the outcome of the last four years is out today. Why do you expect the opposition to bail it out? It’s not our job.

But there was some joint consensus on the National Judicial Appointments Bill.

Let them bring all those bills and talk to their own supporters first. Half of their own allies are up in arms against them most of the time – the Congress MPs from Andhra Pradesh. The day they decide to bring a bill, they must first build a consensus amongst themselves.

Do you think that punishment should be given to MPs disrupting the proceedings by coming to the well of the house?

It is up to the ethics committee and the etiquette committee to see what has to be done. There have been several resolutions and commitments made but those are not abided by.

The government has moved the amendment to the RTI Act exempting political parties from its purview. What is your stand? Why do you think that any political parties and especially their funding should be exempted from coming in the public domain?

Most of these political parties are under the scrutiny of the Income Tax.

Why not to the electorate?

It is an opinion on the consensus of the political parties and on that I will not make any comment.

 


‘While Parliamentarians are expected to be guided by national interest, they only follow the party line’

NCP MP Tariq Anwar tells Ashhar Khan that there is a need for a change in mindset and that the larger national interest should be kept in mind while conducting parliamentary proceedings 

The Parliament is in a state of logjam like previous few sessions; many important bills are stuck. As a Member of Parliament, what do you think should be done about this? Do you feel responsible as a representative of the people that business is not transacted?

I think it is very unfortunate. We come to the Parliament, only for that purpose. We have to see the larger interest, the national interest. But, unfortunately we are guided by our very narrow considerations, following our party line. We always consider how our party will benefit, but, we don’t consider a bill which is very important for the nation, for the society. I think we have to change our mindset.

You’ve been an MP for a very long time now. Over the last few years, don’t you think that the working hours in the Parliament have considerably reduced? What do you think should be done?

It has reduced. Compared to what happens nowadays, Parliament sessions were longer earlier. Members would regularly attend the sessions back then. Longer sessions aren’t a problem for Members of Parliament. If we’re continuously there, to carry on with the parliamentary work, then it’s not a problem. I think it will be rather helpful if we get more time in a day.

There’s a constant blame game going on between the government and the opposition. The parliamentary proceedings are stalled. Don’t you think something must be done to resolve the crisis?

There is a business advisory committee. The agenda for the Parliament is discussed extensively in the committee and everyone agrees on the same. But, the next day, we do not follow the decision taken in the business advisory committee meets. I think this is wrong. Once it is decided by the business advisory committee and we give our consent, we should religiously follow that decision. Only then can we proceed forward.

Don’t you think adjournments are a betrayal of people who have elected you?

Sometimes it is ok, because one has to raise an issue. You have to put forward your people’s aspirations from your constituency, from your area. But, if this repeats everyday, it isn’t correct.

Do you think political parties should come under the RTI?

No.

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