Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Making Our Laws -II

Ever since the Prime Minister moved the motion of confidence in the Lok Sabha the usually very staid and dowdy Lok Sabha Channel on television has become very watch able. The Lok Sabha is packed and the house is full. Members are jostling to get to speak and the speaker has actually got to intervene time and again to get people to keep to their time. The speeches are not flippant and frivolous either. Most or almost have done their home work listening to their speeches is extremely enlightening. Among the speakers whom I could watch live were the civil aviation minister, Praful Patel, the CPI leader, Gurudas Dasgupta and a few others. Among the nuggets of information furnished by one opposition speaker was that the Indian growth story of the economy growing at close to ten percent was not unique – this had achieved in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso among others is about the same measure.

And after all this the voting on the motion would take place on Tuesday after close to 16 hours of speeches and debates from both the treasury and the opposition benches. Reportedly while the debates are going on, the “real business” of harnessing fence sitting or disgruntled members of parliament so that they cast their vote the “ right” way will also go on in the side lines. Considering that the real business of the confidence motion will be done in the backrooms, and it the sharpness and deftness of the deals struck here that will determine the way the dice is cast, one could well wonder at the necessity of debates. Are people going to vote in the confidence motion based on the merits of the debate and the arguments presented for or against the motion by the various speakers ? It is a very unlikely possibility.

If our parliamentarians are capable of such amounts of home work and ability to speak based on facts and figures and their lucid interpretation, then one wonders why such skills and abilities are wasted on occasions where members are not principally coming to cast a conscience vote based on convictions that they develop along the way as they listen to various facets of an argument. All members barring a few independents will vote along party lines as per the whip issued by party head quarters and the party whip has already been issued based not on the merit of the arguments posed but by political compulsions.

The manner in which legislation is currently enacted in India leaves a lot of room for debate and transparency. Almost always, the bill is introduced in parliament in a some what cursory fashion and then immediately referred to a parliamentary committee for further study. After the committee has done its work – and since this is done in offices which are not accessible to the general public; lobbyists and people of influence alone can track what is happening and try and shape it according to their particular priorities. Once the bill is reintroduced in parliament, very little further debate takes place and the bill is passed with some times a handful of people in the house.

The larger body of people in parliament which could examine a bill from several perspectives which they represent hardly does so and with the result, law making remains the domain and privilege of handful of the elite. But now that we know that so many of the parliamentarians can actually do some home work and speak intelligently without disrupting the house or walking out or causing adjournments, one hopes they will find the motivation to do so on other legislative occasions too. Law making then will truly become a democratic activity with each piece of legislation examined from several angles before it becomes law.

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