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Pranab Mukherjee’s warning on falling quality of House debate is timely

By not debating the laws that are being passed, MPs and MLAs are not just doing a disservice to the people but also ceding ground to the bureaucracy and judiciary

editorials Updated: Jul 24, 2017 17:04 IST
Hindustan Times
Pranab Mukherjee,President of India,Bhairon Singh Shekhawat
President Pranab Mukherjee with vice-president and Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, Central Hall in New Delhi , July 23(PTI)

The figures are impressive. “543 persons from the 543 territorial constituencies of this country representing the people in Lok Sabha and 245 persons elected by 29 states and 7 union territories make laws, scrutinise orders of the executive and enforce accountability to protect the interests of the people. Each of these 788 voices is important.” This is what the outgoing President Pranab Mukherjee told lawmakers at a farewell function on Sunday. Cut to the chase and this is what he meant: Mr Mukherjee cautioned the lawmakers that they are not spending enough time to debate the laws they are passing and this is a disservice to the people they represent. Mr Mukherjee added with the heightened complexity of administration, legislation must be preceded by scrutiny and adequate discussion.

This is not the first time the Mr Mukherjee has reminded MPs about the quality of debates in the House. Delivering the first Bhairon Singh Shekhawat Memorial Lecture in Jaipur in May, he said that Parliament’s functioning is based on 3Ds -- Debate, Dissension and Decision. He asked MPs and MLAs to improve the quality of deliberations, discussions and debates in the House, saying people have vested immense power and privileges in them. “You cannot remain the role model to the world simply because of the size of your electorate,” he warned them. These warnings are not without reasons: According to available data, 19.58% of the total time was lost due to interruptions/adjournments in the 14th Lok Sabha, 41.6% in the 15th Lok Sabha and about 16% in the 16th Lok Sabha (up to the 10th session). It is not just the lack of debates or delays, which is making law-making a difficult task: A lot of time is also being lost when it comes to framing the rules after a law is passed. Other senior members including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Sonia Gandhi have also spoken on this challenge.

By not debating the laws that are being passed, MPs and MLAs are not just doing a disservice to the people but also ceding ground to the bureaucracy and judiciary. A report by the think tank IMFR --- India’s Parliament as a Representative Institution --- makes a valid point that while much of the public criticism is focused towards MPs, there is also an urgent need to fix institutional determinants for the malfunction. There are, it adds, three possible forces for institutional reforms: Crusaders in Parliament or civil society; increased political competition and a universal recognition of an impending crisis. Unfortunately, there seem to be no crusaders, only a select set of members who are talking about the crisis, others it seems couldn’t care less. It then becomes incumbent on this select set to be the force of change.

First Published: Jul 24, 2017 17:04 IST