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Parliamentary Supremacy under attack

P.Rajeev

Parliament is the custodian of the Constitution of India. The Preamble of the Constitution proclaims the supremacy of the people of the country. They exercise their supremacy through their elected representatives who are the Members of Parliament. Nowadays, the non- functioning of the Parliament is one among the prime news in the media. This is starkingly true, since it could be seen that the 15th lok sabha could be termed as the least productive Lok sabha in the annals of Indian parliament. As per the statistics prepared by the Lok Sabha secretariat only 1157 hours of sittings took place until the twelfth session of the 15 th loksabha. It is far behind the record of the 14th lok sabha which had 1736 Hours and 55 minutes sittings. Infact, the first lok Sabha held 677 sittings of about 3784 hours during its 14 sessions.  The story is not different in Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of the Parliament. First time in the history, the upper House returned the budget without any discussion.
However this is not the  lone aspect which is corroding the present functioning of democracy. The executive has taken most of the policy decision without the concurrence of the supreme Legislative body of our country. A classic example of this the Aadhar , the much propaganded prestigious programme of this Government. It is regarded as a pre requisite for getting all benefits from the government. Without Aadhar number, a student would not get any benefit from the central and state Governments.  Direct Benefit Transfer is based on Aadhar numbers. This number is linked with Bank Accounts. But what is the legislative backing for Aadhar? UID bill is supposed to be the law for the implementation of Aadhar. But the Parliamentary standing committee had submitted its reports with serious objections to most of the provisions of the BIll. But the government  had kept it in cold storage and is not ready to move the bill in the Parliament in any form for consideration and passing.

But Aadhar has already become a reality and an unavoidable part of the life of an Indian Citizen.   Another covert approach of the government is visible in the instance of when the Government introduced Contributory Pension Scheme for the Central and State Government Employees. All the state governments in our country are collecting the contribution from crores of their employees for Pension Fund. But we find that the bill relating to it is still pending before the Parliament. What is the legality for collecting hundreds of crores of rupees during all these years? These are only few instances of the government by passing the Parliament for implementing major policy decisions.
Constitution of India clearly defines and demarcates the powers of different organs of the democratic system. If Parliament passes a Law, then it becomes the Law of the Land. All citizens of the country are bound to adhere to it. But this constitutional mandate is violated than put into practice.  While presenting the Union Budget 2012-13, the then Finance Minister Shri Pranab Mukherjee had introduced retrospective taxation. Both Houses passed the finance Bill unanimously with these provisions. But when Shri Chidabharam became the Finance Minister of the country, the scene dramatically changed he constituted a one man committee to review this new tax reform. Within a week of submission of the report by Shri Partha Saradhi Shome , the tax expert, the Government decided to defer the retrospective taxation for three years. An expert can overrule the unanimous decision of the supreme legislative body of this country?
Parliamentary committees are considered as a miniature of the Parliament. Usually, the Committees consist of Members of Parliament representing most of the political parties. In developed democracies, only Parliament can overrule the decision of the parliamentary committees. But in India the Executive has the right to adopt or reject the recommendations of a Parliamentary committee. If the Government incorporates a new clause to any bill, which was not in the original bill, then it should again send it to the committee for their consideration. But contrary to this constitutional convention practiced hitherto, for the first time in the history of Constitutional India,  we could find the government itself, constituted an expert committee to evaluate the recommendations of a Parliamentary Standing Committee. To our surprise when the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance submitted its report on Direct Tax Code we find the Finance Ministry immediately constituting a committee on this report. Though the ministry gave some explanations when the controversy erupted , Can it be considered as fair and just ? Is it not an usurpation of parliamentary authority and a way curbing the voice of the people?
All these are nothing but clear indications of the eradication of the legislative powers of the Parliament. This is further high lightened in other policy issues too. Before the nineties , a common Indian man would eagerly wait before his TV sets or radio to know about the  budget proposals inorder to  know the changes in tax rates, changes in prices of different commodities,  rail fares etc But now days, no one is serious about the budget.  Of late, we find that not only the Parliament but the Executive has no powers in the pricing of petroleum products. The Government had hand over these powers to the oil companies. According to the last Railway Budget,  the train fares would be decided by a regulatory authority. Now the Government is preparing to pass the Constitution Amendment Bill for Implementing Goods and Services Tax. As per the draft bill the Parliament has no powers in deciding the tax rates. The GST Council has the powers to decide the tax rate for the centre and state Governments. Thus gradually we find that the Parliament and the Legislative Assemblies would have no say in these processes as well. Would  the Budget become a time passing exercise?  Would the peoples representatives be snatched away  with their constitutionally conferred  responsibilities? However we find that after serious protest from different sections of the society, the Government had now made a change in this clause in the bill and made the powers of the GST Council , recommendatory. There is no doubt that these recommendations would be tied up hands of forthcoming Finance Ministers and thus would lead to further  dilution of the financial powers of the Parliament.
The last budget of the country is supposed to be in accordance with the Policy and allocations of the 12th  Plan. But the Parliament never got a chance to discuss the plan. The Planning commission approved the plan and the cabinet cleared it. Is this not a clear aberration to the democratic  notions of our constitutional  mandates?While we go through the Acts passed by the Parliament , we can find  legal terms like”as may be prescribed by”. In the recently passed Companies Bill we can find this term often repeated alarmingly in 336 places. This clearly establishes the fact that the legislation is more dependent on the subordinate legislation. This proves not only the executive usurpation of powers .
Another serious threat to the Parliamentary system in India is the steep decline of the representative nature of the indian society in these fundamental institution . As per the Election Watch statistics, the 306 MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha are crorepatis. While comparing it to the 14th Lok Sabha the increase is more than 100 percentages. The Average asset of an MP is nearly Rs 5.8 Cr. Is it not a farce that they are the representatives of a society where the daily consumption of  more than 77 percentage of the people is below Rs20? In the present cabinet we find more than 23 ministers have assets more than Rs 5 Cr and only one single minister having asset less than 5Lakhs.  As per another statistics 32% of the candidates who have the asset of more than Rs 5Cr won in last Lok Sabha elections. The winning chance of the candidates in between fifty lakh and RS 5Cr is 18.5% and for those having below 10 lakh is only 2.6%. This clearly indicates that money power is one of the major factors in the election system of a liberalized economy.
Recently the Prime Minister had  reshuffled his cabinet. Only three in the new faces were born before Independence of the country. The country never got a Prime Minister who born after Independence.This proves the lack of young dynamic representatives of the people in the governance of the nation which has majority of the young generation in its population matrix.
The Indian democratic system has a progressive nature up to certain extent. But it has been attacked by the same class who runs the state. Defending the representative nature of the Parliament and protecting its legislative supremacy are the responsibilities to which we are constitutionally wedded. Parliament is the place where peoples aspirations and needs emerges into action. It is the mechanism to establish rule of law and distributive justice. Denying and depriving it of its  powers and responsibilities  leads to erosion of legitimate aspirations of the people themselves.
When one ponders on the solutions for this state of affairs we find some worthwhile suggestions in this direction.Most of the developing countries have their own calendar for the functioning of the Parliament. The written  constitutions of some of the countries have provisions to ensure minimum days for the sitting of the Parliament. How can we assure minimum sittings of the House? The amendment to the Constitution is the only answer to this. Several sectors of the society are demanding for minimum sittings of 100 days. Next proposal would be the need for strengthening the functioning of the Parliamentary standing committee .As for the Scandinavian democracies , only the Parliament has t he power to make changes in the report of a standing committee. The executive has no say in this. This can be accommodated into our legal system also. In order to ensure this proper amendments should be incorporated in to the Constitution.
Finally a word about the recent trends of judicial activism in our country deserves mention. The root cause of bothExecutive activism and Judicial activism is the weakness in the functioning of the Legislature. This weakness enables creation of space for the executive and judiciary to supersede and encroach the parliamentary powers. Hence the need for recognition and affirmation of parliamentary powers so that the democratic and constitutional ideal of “rule of the people, by the people and for the people
” is ensured.

Member of Parliyament