Friday, April 17, 2009

Long live millions of poor!

A IAS turned economist turned RBI Governor turned nominated Member of Parliament in Indian Raja Sabha (upper house)  Mr Bimal Jalan wrote a piece recently in The Hindu in which he express his concerns on the function of Indian Parliament. 

Some excerpts: 

  • “The time allotted to different parties and nominated members is decided in terms of their number as a percentage of the total membership of the House. Nominated members who constitute 4 percent of the total members of Rajya Sabha are entitled to a maximum of only 4 percent of time allotted for debate on any subject. What is even more significant is that their turn comes after all major parties have spoken and the House is virtually empty.
  • First, the accountability of ministers to parliament has been considerably eroded. We now have coalitions in power with a large number of parties of different sizes. Leaders of different parties can continue in cabinet without any individual or collective responsibility to parliament or, for that matter, Prime Minister. 
  • Second, in view of anti-defection law, individual members of a party are completely subservient to their party leaders. Interestingly, this law does not apply to small parties which join a government. Thus, there is a built-in incentive for any leader to set up a separate party with even 4 or 5 members. If he or she is the leader of a small party, that person would command a huge premium and would be sought after by dominant parties. Third, the rules of business in parliament can be ignored with impunity without any adverse consequences. Fourth, the overwhelming primacy is given to whatever government wants to be done by parliament, including passage of bills with or without discussion. 
  •  An immediate priority is to make anti-defection law applicable to all parties which join a government rather than only to members individually. Similarly, changes in business procedures of parliament are required to improve the speaking order and minimum time allotted to individual members who wish to participate in debates. Under no circumstances should a legislative bill be passed without discussion and actual voting. Another priority area for reform is the internal democratization of political parties. 
  • Let me end with a quote from a note handed over to me by a Member of Parliament who was a distinguished member of a political party: 
  • “You made an excellent speech and a lot of us totally agree with you. The Anti-Defection Amendment has curbed the consciences of MPs. We have to follow party whips even if we do not agree as in this case of the Offices of Profit Bill. Congratulations.” 
  • I am, of course, grateful for the above generous remarks. However, it is equally disheartening to note that even if that member were a great “celebrity” and a recognised genius, she would not have been able to express her views. 
  • It would benefit citizens, if in addition to counting questions and attendance of members in parliament, public-spirited organisations and media were to highlight the urgent need for political reforms to make the working of India’s democratic institutions less oligarchic and more people-oriented.” 

We had peoples President, now we have peoples car but we do not know where is our people’s parliament?

No comments: