Abdicating governance
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Abdicating governance

With the powers of the judiciary, legislature and executive now having become blurred, the government must start listening to the country's Opposition, writes Sitaram Yechury.

columns Updated: May 06, 2013 21:21 IST
Sitaram Yechury,Parliament logjam,railway minister

Parliament continues to remain paralysed as the UPA 2 government seems to have decided it will remain brazen about acts of omission and commission that keep tumbling out of its cupboard rapidly. The demand for the resignation of the railway minister, which follows the arrest of his nephew for accepting bribes in return for postings, has been rejected on the grounds that investigations are still on. How can an investigation proceed properly if the railway minister himself presides over the ministry? Even if the minister is given the benefit of doubt, any investigation has to be publicly perceived as being unbiased. Such public trust is undermined by the Congress' brazenness.

The law minister continues to hold office despite the affidavit submitted by the CBI to the Supreme Court. In paragraphs 18 and 19, the affidavit confirms that the law minister had summoned the CBI, and that changes were suggested by the Attorney General (AG), PMO and coal ministry officials, and also the law minister himself. However, the CBI maintains that these changes did not in any way alter the course or content of its investigation. Pray, why were these changes made at all?

On April 13, a three judge bench of the apex court made scathing remarks against the government and the CBI. It said that the agency had "said before this very court in unequivocal terms that this investigation would be independent". The AG had himself earlier told the court that the CBI report was not seen by the government. The apex court is about to start hearing this PIL. The government and the agency are likely to be rapped on their knuckles for not abiding by the court's prescriptions pertaining to the CBI investigation. Resignations may then follow.

This, however, totally distorts our constitutional scheme of things, especially issues like the separation of powers among the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, as also the exercise of the Constitution's centrality where supreme sovereignty lies with the people. "We the people" exercise this sovereignty through our elected representatives, those who are accountable to them and to whom the executive is in turn accountable to. This chain of accountability is now being grievously distorted. When parliamentary functioning is paralysed, its mandate to make the executive accountable essentially fails. This in turn distorts Parliament's accountability to the people, thus undermining our Constitution's foundations.

The current parliamentary impasse raises a fundamental question - how do the very organs of power, vested to implement the Constitution, go on to then subvert it themselves? When Parliament cedes its ground and when the executive abdicates its responsibility, then blaming the judiciary for 'activism' is futile.

Last month, the country paid homage to two of its pre-eminent jurists, both of whom served the country for nearly a decade, as Supreme Court judges, but were separated in time - Justices O Chinappa Reddy and JS Verma. The latter moved on to serve as Chief Justice till he retired. Both have made significant contributions. They ensured the implementation of our constitutional rights and continued to serve the cause of strengthening our Republic till their respective deaths. Parliament is yet to properly discuss Justice Verma's recent report to reform penal provisions that could effectively counter the rising sexual crimes against women. He had submitted this report in record time.

Justice Verma had once noted that "the deliberate misuse of the judicial process by some vested interests to settle political scores, or to shift the responsibility to the judiciary for deciding some delicate political issue found inconvenient by the political executive for decision" has left the judiciary pronouncing on matters that need to be dealt with exclusively by the executive. The judiciary ought to return such matters to the domain of the executive, which in turn, must be accountable to the legislature.

However, when the executive abdicates its own responsibility and when the legislature is rendered dysfunctional, the judiciary would naturally have to step in. Justice Verma had once lamented upon the umpteenth instances where the judiciary was forced to pronounce orders that should have fallen strictly under the executive's domain. He had said, "The judiciary has intervened to question a 'mysterious car' racing down the Tughlak Road in Delhi, allotting a particular bungalow to a judge, specific bungalows for the judges pool, monkeys capering colonies to stray cattle on the street, cleaning public conveniences and levying congestion charges at airports, etc." You are welcome to add to this list.

There is a serious issue at stake here. The executive and the legislature are given responsibility under the Constitution to manage public affairs and in the final analysis, to be accountable to the people. Accountability, in fact, differentiates democracy from other systems of governance. It is precisely the abdication of such accountability that we are seeing now.

Such grievous distortions of our constitutional schemes of things need immediate correction. The government of the day cannot be allowed to continue being non-accountable to Parliament. This requires Parliament to function properly. This in turn requires the government to accept the legitimate demands of the Opposition, as in this case, the resignation of the ministers concerned. Much of the disruption can be avoided if the government rises to the occasion. It must consider the issues raised by the Opposition. At the same time, unreasonable demands by the Opposition should also not be allowed to stall parliamentary proceedings. Indeed, the time has come for us to seriously consider an amendment to the Constitution mandating as compulsory at least a hundred days of parliamentary sittings in a calendar year.

However, in the final analysis the implementation of such an amendment, as it is with the rest of the Constitution, rests on the government of the day and the sincere discharge of its responsibilities towards the Constitution and the people.

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: May 06, 2013 21:15 IST