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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

Why institutional accountability matters

The government has the mandate to push its agenda, but it must respect checks

editorials Updated: Jul 23, 2019 18:51 IST

Hindustan Times
The government must rethink its priorities, and the opposition and civil society must keep a careful watch on its actions
The government must rethink its priorities, and the opposition and civil society must keep a careful watch on its actions(AP)
         

The Narendra Modi government has an overwhelming majority in the Lok Sabha. This has been earned through a democratic process. It is also in power in 15 states, giving it strength at the state level, and helping it inch towards a majority in Rajya Sabha. This, too, has been earned through elections. The mandate Mr Modi enjoys is unquestionable; the government is fully entitled to use this mandate to push through its political, ideological and legislative agenda. At the same time, a functioning democracy rests on checks and balances. And that is why there are independent institutions which serve as sources of accountability.

This balance appears to be in some jeopardy. Look at the bills the government pushed through in the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha. Its decision to empower the National Investigative Agency with more powers, adding to the crimes it can investigate, expanding its jurisdiction, and enabling the constitution of special courts, can be debated but, some experts say, was required. Political statements from the treasury benches — especially on Kashmir — have also indicated a wider brief to security forces and agencies, which, it can be argued, is needed to tackle militancy in the Valley. On the other hand, overriding objections, the government passed the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill in Lok Sabha, which, critics point out, will curtail the autonomy of the Central Information Commission. The government also pushed the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill which changes the eligibility of the heads of human rights commissions and terms of service.

To be sure, the government is fully empowered to pass these legislations. But there is a pattern. It is keen on expanding the investigative powers of the State. But it does not seem to be comfortable with those checks which can restrain executive authority. At a time when the government already enjoys political dominance, and there are serious questions of credibility of independent institutions like the Election Commission, any step which can directly or indirectly reduce accountability does not bode well for democratic practice. The government must rethink its priorities, and the opposition and civil society must keep a careful watch on its actions.