[Editorial Analysis] Hurrying through a legislation: on reservation quota

Mains Paper 2: Polity

Prelims level: 124th Amendment Bill 2019

Mains level: Basic structure of Indian constitution

Context

• Parliament ended the penultimate session of this Lok Sabha with both Houses passing the Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, 2019.

• It enables 10% reservation in education and employment for economically weaker sections.

• The process by which this was done illustrates the collective failure of parliamentarians to review the government’s proposals and hold it to account.

Hasty steps

• On Monday (January 7), it was reported that the Cabinet had approved a Bill to provide reservation to poor candidates regardless of their caste, and that this would be introduced in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the last day of the winter session.

• The rules of procedure of the Lok Sabha require every Bill to be circulated at least two days ahead of introduction.

• This is to give time for MPs to read the Bill and discuss it (or make objections) when the vote on the motion to introduce the Bill is taken up.

• This Bill was not circulated, even on Tuesday morning. At 11 a.m., when unstarred questions are tabled, one question concerned whether the government was “exploring the scope of providing reservation for poor candidates from forward communities for education and employment” and the details.

• The Ministry categorically denied that there was any such proposal under consideration.

• Then at 12.46 p.m., the Bill was introduced, with copies having been circulated to MPs a few minutes earlier.

Smooth process

• The usual practice is to refer Bills to the respective standing committee of Parliament.

• This step allows MPs to solicit public feedback and interact with experts before forming their recommendations.

• In the case of this Constitution Amendment clearly one with far-reaching implications this scrutiny mechanism was bypassed.

• The number of ways in which due oversight was skipped.

• The Bill was not circulated ahead of being introduced, it was not examined by a committee, there was hardly any time between its introduction and final discussion.

• Barring a few small parties, none of the larger Opposition parties asked for the Bill to be carefully considered by a parliamentary committee even in the Rajya Sabha where they might have been able to muster the numbers to ensure this.

The British contrast

• This case highlights three important ways in which the British Parliament works better than ours.

• First, the absence of an anti-defection law, so that each MP can vote her conscience. Note that the motion that put the government in a spot was moved by a former attorney general and a member of the ruling party.

• Second, it is known exactly how each MP voted. In India, most votes (other than Constitution Amendments that need a two-thirds majority to pass) are through voice votes just 7% of other Bills had a recorded vote over the last 10 years.

• Third, the Speaker insisted on the supremacy of Parliament, and allowed a motion against the wishes of the government. Unlike in India, the independence of the Speaker is secured in the U.K. as no party contests against the Speaker in the next general election.

• Parliament has a central role to secure the interest of citizens.

• It is the primary body of accountability that translates the wishes and aspirations of citizens into appropriate laws and policies.

Conclusion

• However, our Parliament often falls short of these goals due to some structural reasons.

• These include the anti-defection law , lack of recorded voting as a norm, party affiliation of the Speaker, frequent bypassing of committees, insufficient time and research support to examine Bills, and the lack of a calendar.

• We need to address each of these issues to strengthen Parliament and protect our democracy.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) Consider the following statements:

1. Monazite soil of Kerala is a rich source for mining Uranium.

2. Thummalapalle mine of Andhra Pradesh has been claimed to be the largest reserve of Uranium found in the world.

Which of the above statements are incorrect?

a) 1 only

b) 2 only

c) Both 1 and 2

d) Neither 1 nor 2

Correct Answer: A

Mains Questions:

Q.1) Critically evaluate the passage of the quota Bill highlights grave gaps in India’s parliamentary procedures.

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