The results of the 15th general elections were declared on May 16, 2014, and the Narendra Modi-led government was sworn in on May 24. Technically, therefore, the first year of the Modi government will end in a few days. In the meanwhile, the prime minister still continues to be in election mode while addressing people of Indian origin in foreign countries. He continues to make disparaging comments and hurl charges against the Opposition parties on foreign soil. He would probably go down in history as the first prime minister of India to have gone on 18 foreign tours in one year.
That notwithstanding, the year has seen several challenges facing the country and the people. The aggressive pursuit of the neo-liberal policies of economic reforms, the relentless onslaughts on the secular democratic foundations of the country by sharpening communal polarisation and the movement towards an authoritarian rule through the erosion of our democratic institutions and methods considered sacrosanct in a parliamentary democracy constitute the current constellation of challenges before us.
Consider the manner in which the subversion of our democratic institutions and methods of the functioning of parliamentary democracy are taking place. Using the strength of its majority in the Lok Sabha, albeit with a mere 31% of the vote polled, the BJP is attempting to bulldoze many crucial laws without any parliamentary scrutiny and meaningful debates.
Parliamentary scrutiny is exercised by the parliamentary standing committees that examine legislative proposals. These panels comprise MPs from the entire political spectrum and examine legislation by seeking to understand its effectiveness and implications over a vast section of stakeholders. This enables the standing committees to suggest fine-tuning of these legislation and, if necessary, to suggest to the government to reconsider or redraft some legislation in order to make them either comprehensive or effective. This is the manner in which the lawmakers are supposed to discharge their responsibilities. It is in these committees, more than during the sessions, away from public glare of direct telecast that the MPs work hard. Negating such a procedure is tantamount to prohibiting MPs from discharging their law-making responsibilities.
However, the BJP is imposing its ‘tyranny of the majority’ in the Lok Sabha. During this year, nearly 50 pieces of legislation have been passed without any reference to the standing committees. This has created a peculiar situation when such legislation was brought before the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP does not have a majority. These were invariably referred to a select committee of the House for proper examination. During the last few months, the Rajya Sabha had to constitute at least seven select committees on various items of legislation.
These are indeed ominous signals. Bypassing parliamentary procedures is the surest way towards authoritarianism which can lead to the destruction of the democratic foundations of our Republic. Combined with the communal onslaught and the aggressive pursuit of the hardcore Hindutva agenda, which seek to destroy the social harmony of our incredibly diverse society, these constitute a grave attack on the foundations of our constitutional republican order.
In an attempt to bypass the Rajya Sabha scrutiny of its new legislative proposals concerning economic reforms that facilitate greater profit maximisation, opportunities for foreign and domestic big capital at the expense of imposing greater burdens on our people, the BJP government has smuggled in financial reforms by having them categorised by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha as ‘Money Bills’.
According to the Constitution, ‘Money Bills’ do not require an approval or adoption by the Rajya Sabha. Such subterfuge is used to pass off legislation remotely connected with finance, like amendments to the various acts of the financial institutions or the recently enacted Bill on recovering black money from foreign banks and tax havens, which are not ‘Money Bills’ as defined by the Constitution.
Article 110 (1) of the Constitution defines a Money Bill in detail, over seven sub-clauses: Clause (2) of the same article also clearly states: “A Bill shall not be deemed to be a Money Bill by reason only that it provides for the imposition of fines or other pecuniary penalties, or for the demand or payment of fees for licences or fees for services rendered, or by reason that it provides for the imposition, abolition, remission, alteration or regulation of any tax by any local authority or body for local purposes.”
However, clause (3) mentions: If any question arises whether a Bill is a Money Bill or not, the decision of the Speaker of the House of the People thereon shall be final.
Surely, a Bill cannot be treated as a Money Bill if it does not fall under the purview of the seven sub-clauses of clause (1) or by contradicting clause (2) of this article of our Constitution.
In order to ensure that the constitutional right of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha is not misused to negate the spirit of our constitutional provisions, it is necessary to add a set of rules in the conduct of the proceedings of the Lok Sabha, by which the Speaker at any point of time can rule on any Bill deeming it to be a Money Bill.
Now, Parliament has its independent status and authority like the executive (government) and the judiciary in our Constitution. These sets of rules can only be framed by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha as a guide for future reference in conducting the parliamentary business adhering to the spirit of our Constitution. This may be the best cure to prevent the possible misuse of this provision, subverting our parliamentary democracy.
Sitaram Yechury is general secretary of the CPI(M) and a Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed are personal