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The legislative business

The legislative business

With two crucial bills passing their respective hurdles in the Houses of Parliament in tandem, one must take into consideration the lack of scrutiny that the opposition has actively decried about. When on Thursday, Rajya Sabha passed the contentious RTI Amendment Bill, 2019, amidst expected opposition protests and a potential violation of voting procedure, the pending requests of opposition leaders backed by activists and former CICs pressing for scrutiny by Standing or Select Committee were clearly extinguished. The trend was also visible in the Lok Sabha which passed the heavily debated Triple Talaq Bill–though there was not much that opposition could have done in here due to an overwhelming majority enjoyed by the government. Both bills, in lieu of their proposals, had grasped the attention of legislators who wanted an additional round of scrutiny before passing those. The persistent tension in the Lok Sabha revolved around the fact that the government's privilege of enjoying a vast majority diminishes the scope of reviewing any bill beyond mild but inconsequential discussions held in the House. It is for this reason that the passing of RTI Amendment bill was condemned with opposing legislators pressing for a Select Committee intervention to ensure the due scrutiny that the bill deserved. In fact, the ruckus caused by the passing of the bill in Lok Sabha had actually prevented the government from tabling it in the Rajya Sabha the next day (Wednesday)–despite the Budget session edging towards its closure. It was, however, tabled on Thursday and consequently passed. The opposition motion was defeated 75 to 117 in favour of the government in what was a rare occasion in the Upper House of an opposition motion getting defeated. While the sacrosanct authority prevails over legislative procedures, the scope of scrutiny by a Standing or Select Committee is also in the purview of the same legislative procedures. It is to this end that the dispensation could have opted for another round of legislative scrutiny, especially when the Modi government's focus is drawn towards grabbing everyone's trust (Sabka Vishwas). There is a constant underlying apprehension that the opposition and government, in their efforts to curtail the others' free hand, often end up bringing the legislative machinery down. While the passing of these two bills was not at all in favour of the opposition, this sort of dissent is not uncommon. The very purpose of Houses and voting is to ensure that everyone's say is there. The legislative machinery was designed in a manner that will allow scrutiny to its crux. Sadly, here, the government seemed in a tearing hurry to get the bills passed. A standing testament of this fact is the extension granted to the Budget Session which was due to terminate yesterday. In numbers, the government gets the upper hand but the legislative business is not about numbers in the first place. It is about making laws and laws, owing to their sacrosanct nature, cannot be unilaterally made. They need reviews and critiques as essential features of this democratic Parliament to ensure sanctity. The reason bills are subject to scrutiny–both in house and sometimes to Select Committees–is for the reason that they cannot be simply drafted and implemented in the country without taking cognisance of the possible ramifications and loopholes which may be detrimental. Extending the Parliament's Budget Session is more than welcome but only when due scrutiny takes place and not with the intention to fast-track the passing of bills. Having dissenting MPs is not surprising but making these dissenting MPs realise that their dissent is for nothing only makes the environment of the Parliament more hostile. The government of the day should not forget that the overwhelming mandate that they received in the Lok Sabha elections was not to utilise the consequent majority against the opposition.

Writing a letter to Chairman and Vice President Venkaiah Naidu seemed like the last resort for few of the dissenting MPs who saw the RTI Amendment Bill pass without any hiccups in the Upper House. As many as 17 opposition parties, through the letter, conveyed their concern over the hurried passage of bills in Parliament. It also notified the Chairman that in the 14th and 15th Lok Sabha, 60 and 71 per cent of bills were sent for scrutiny to the parliamentary committees but the 16th Lok Sabha had only 26 per cent bills reviewed under those. Parliamentary Committees are not necessarily disapproving which is why the government's approach is not understandable. These parliamentary committees only ensure the quality of legislations to an extent where they may not have any kind of gaps and negative impact once they are framed as laws of the land. In their rush to pass the pending bills, the government must not lose focus on quality. It does not matter if Parliament passes fewer bills in a particular session but it makes a sizeable difference if those are passed without appropriate scrutiny.

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