In the 75th year of political freedom from almost two centuries of exploitative British rule, the world’s most populous democracy is running out of steam. Institutions established as the republic’s pillars of democratic governance are crumbling because of political irresponsibility and public indifference. Neither the executive, Parliament, police-judicial system nor the media — the so-called fourth estate — are in good health. The system of institutional checks and balances mandated by the Constitution is rapidly becoming dysfunctional with Parliament in perpetual chaos, and the judiciary and media unable to control the executive at the Centre or in states. The republic is sliding into anarchy and autocracy.
These grim forebodings are evoked by the almost total inability of Parliament to discharge its constitutional responsibility to rationally debate issues of national importance and formulate policies and laws for effective governance. According to data provided by the secretariats of both houses of Parliament, in the recently concluded 17-day monsoon session, the Lok Sabha conducted orderly business for a mere 21 of its scheduled 96 hours, and the Rajya Sabha (upper house of elders and intellectuals) only 28 of its scheduled 97.5 hours.
This was because the ruling BJP/NDA government and opposition parties failed to agree on the daily debates agenda. The opposition, notably the Congress wanted the government to schedule debates on the Pegasus spyware issue and mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic, whereas the government had other legislation enactment priorities. It’s an indicator of deep polarisation within the political class that leaders of both houses of Parliament are unable to agree on orderly conduct of debates.
It’s important to note that MPs staging angry protests and fooling around costs the public exchequer heavily. MPs are paid Rs.50,000 per month as salary, Rs.45,000 as constituency allowance, Rs.15,000 as office expenses and Rs.30,000 for secretarial assistance. This remuneration is supplemented with lavish perks such as free housing, motorcars, 34 free air-tickets per year, free train travel, electricity and phone bills etc. Moreover, every minute when Parliament is in session costs the exchequer Rs.2.5-3 lakh by way of administrative expense. This circus is too expensive for a country with a per capita income of $2,000 equivalent.
If after 75 years of practising democracy, MPs — one-third of whom have grave criminal charges filed against them — still haven’t learned parliamentary decorum, it’s plain they are beyond redemption. Perpetual parliamentary furore provides a good reason to switch to the presidential form of governance with a popularly elected president free to choose the country’s most competent professionals to serve as cabinet members, with Parliament having the option to ratify or reject presidential legislation after deliberation and debate.
Orderly migration to the presidential system will result in tight, intelligent legislation and save the courts and hapless public a great deal of time, money and inconvenience.
Also Read: Orderly conduct of Parliament non-negotiable