THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 12 August 2019 (The imprint of a state juggernaut (The Hindu))

The imprint of a state juggernaut (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 2: Polity
Prelims level: Lok Sabha
Mains level: Performance of 17th Lok Sabha

Context

  • The 17th Lok Sabha, which was convened on June 17, held 37 sittings that extended over 280 hours till it was adjourned sine die on August 6.
  • The Rajya Sabha, which met on June 20, held 35 sittings till it was adjourned sine die on August 7.
  • The spokespersons of both Houses claimed that productivity was approximately 137% and 103%, respectively, denoting the hours of work put in.
  • While the Lok Sabha spent 46% of its time in legislative business, the Rajya Sabha spent 51%, a record in recent years.

Highlights of the 17th Lok Sabha

  • There were 40 Bills that were introduced during this session (33 in the Lok Sabha and seven in the Rajya Sabha). While the Lok Sabha passed 35 bills, the number was 32 in the Rajya Sabha; 30 bills were passed by both Houses of Parliament.
  • In the Lok Sabha, 183 starred questions were orally answered while 1,066 matters of urgent importance were taken up; 488 issues under Rule 377, that requires advance notice and approval of the Speaker, were attended to.
  • The Lok Sabha Speaker, Om Birla, repeatedly drew attention to the equality of the members of the House cutting across party differences, and extending opportunities to new and young members.
  • Out of 265 first time members, 229, including 42 out of 46 women members, found an opportunity to express themselves in the House.

Legislative measures

  • Parliament has to be credited for passing some bills that enjoyed a broad consensus such as the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, the Consumer Protection Bill, and the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Bill, although questions have been raised on whether these bills and the way they were framed, were the most appropriate ways to further their intent.
  • However, many of the bills passed by the Houses were matters that led to deep division and contention within the polity, such as the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, the Aadhar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) Bill, and the Codes on Wages.
  • Some of the bills passed by the Lok Sabha such as the Inter State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill 2019, the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019, and the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019 definitely called for a wider and closer discussion.
  • Many of the bills, such as the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, which was passed by both the Houses, had bearing on powers of the States and tended to reinforce the powers of the Centre.
  • The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019 introduced in the Rajya Sabha surreptitiously, on the penultimate day of its working, and passed by the Lok Sabha on its last working day, changed the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir, hitherto protected under Article 370.
  • It split the State into two Union Territories: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

Institutional bearing

  • The task of Parliament is not to discuss and debate, shape and reshape measures for public good, and ensure oversight, but merely play second fiddle to the executive leadership.
  • Therefore, criticism and debate over the bills was kept to the minimum, if avoided altogether.
  • There was no attempt to form the 24 departmentally related standing committees before the session, or early in its day, to which bills could be referred to for scrutiny and review or form subject committees for the purpose.
  • The plea of some Opposition members of the Houses in this direction was all in vain.
  • The formal legal equality of citizens would be on premium and all differential considerations on grounds of disadvantage or considerations of diversity would be suspect.
  • Therefore, Articles 370, 35A, and Sharia provisions were sought to be modified, while commitment to human rights in general, was reinforced by recrafting the National Human Rights Commission through The Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill.
  • There was an enormous strengthening of the surveillance and investigative instrumentalities of the State not merely through the UAPA, but also in bills pertaining to the economy and financial transactions. In these measures the ‘lethal machine’ of the State was on full display against the prevalent ascription of a ‘soft’ state.
  • The legislative measures and amendments such as the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, highlighted the emergence of an institutional hierarchy, demoting key positions, involving transparency and accountability, to executive discretion.
  • The institutional hierarchy of authority, where the higher rungs were cushioned from the lower ones, was vividly there to see in the way in which the name of the Prime Minister was invoked by Ministers and member after member of the ruling dispensation as the font of wisdom, foresight and concern.
  • Clearly, the attempt to craft a docile Parliament had gone a long way.

Way forward

  • There was also little to defend the way the Opposition had made a habit of boycotting the House and stalling its proceedings, although at times it was the most effective way of demanding responsiveness, and even to air popular grievances.
  • At the same time, it should be said, Parliament was grappling with coming to terms with its own institutional working to be the voice of democracy.
  • If the proceedings in the recently concluded session are a clue to its future, then Parliament has been securely chained to India’s state juggernaut.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) Consider the following statements with reference to the Petroleum, Chemicals and Petrochemical Investment Regions (PCPIRs):
1. Under the cluster-based development model, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has identified 4 PCPIRs to promote investment and industrial development in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Tamil Nadu.
2. Each PCPIR is a specifically delineated region having an area of about 250 sq. km. wherein40% of the area has to be for processing activities.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
A. 1 only
B. 2 only
C. All the above
D. None

Answer: B
Mains Questions:

Q.1) The 17th Lok Sabha session count as one of the most productive session in Lok Sabha history. In this context how this Budget session lacked sufficient deliberation, pointing to the crafting of a docile Parliament. Give your arguments in this regard.

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