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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 41, New Delhi, September 26, 2020

Steam Rolling Farm Bill, Labour Bill And Other Legislations - Denigration Of Parliament, The Office Of Presiding Officer And Federal Structure | Vijay Kumar

Friday 25 September 2020

by Vijay Kumar

The unseemly haste through which the three Firm Bills and same numbers of labour bills were passed has fateful implications for parliamentary democracy and federalism. The rushing through of the three Farm Bills despite almost all the opposition parties, many of them are ruling in numerous States, pressed for in-depth discussion and three labor bills in absence of members belonging to opposition parties will go down as lowest point in Parliamentary democracy. The passionate imploration of opposition parties for division of the vote was rejected by Dy. Chairman of the Rajya Sabha by allowing the Legislation to pass through by dubious voice vote. This is unprecedented as the members had right to demand the division of votes and be counted for voting for or against the Bill and the presiding officer was under an obligation to accede to this legitimate democratic request.

This writer is not an expert on agriculture and therefore would refrain from commenting on the merit of the text. But the context in which the 3 Bills were railroaded through, to borrow the caption of Bhanu Pratap Mehta (Indian Express – 22.09.2020) should not be ignored. The process through which the Bills were introduced in a stealthy manner, and rushed through by ramming down the throat of the opposition members has grave import for our parliamentary democracy, particularly for the sanctity of the Rajya Sabha which is an essential component of bicameralism and federalism. The Bills were introduced at a time when Ambani and Adani, the bossom business friends of Prime Minister Modi have entered into Agro-sector. The three bills were pushed through at a time when Modi Government is ushering into privatization of Railways, disinvestment of public sectors, starting with Air India, the introduction of Labour Bills attempting to drastically amend the Labour Legislations by taking away the safeguards guaranteed to labours and handing over of many airports, including Mumbai Airport to Adani. Therefore, the context in which both Farms bills and Labors bille were steamrolled can not be ignored.
The agriculture is the only sector which is doing relatively well even in a time when the entire economy has almost collapsed. The trigger for downslide of the economy was the capricious and autocratic decision of demonetization in November 2016 and the Pandemic of COVID-19 has only performed the act of obsequy. The Indian economy, at present, is virtually in coma and at this juncture rushing through controversial Firm Bills in unilateral style by ignoring the voice of Opposition, State Governments and other stake-holders is a recipe for disaster. Giving precedence to the interest of capital and corporate over the interest of labours and farmers is an unmistakable pointer to the government being hostage to the corporate stranglehold.

Similarly, the drastic revamping of all erstwhile labour legislation by three new labour bills negates the historic struggle through which the worker acquired the right. Right from the time of industrial revolution, the labour forces struggled for their rights and eventually succeded in getting them recognized through legislation. Doing away with safeguards guaranteed to workers and the restriction imposed on management represents the repudiation of the historic legacy of great and sustained struggle for emancipation just in order to placate the corporate lobby, the generous donors of the ruling party. The restructuring of labour legislation by easing the hire and fire rule by removing the condition imposed on management has sacrificed the interest of worker at the altar of corporate’ greed.

The tendency to introducing the Bills in a sudden manner and rushing it through has become the hallmark of Modi government, particularly in it’s second term. The suspension of Article 370 of the Constitution which guaranteed the special protection to J&K along with downgrading its status by converting it from States into Union Territories and bifurcating it into two parts, the passing of Citizenship (Amendment) Act and bypassing the Rajya Sabha by getting the Bills certified as a ‘Money Bill’ have brought to the fore the utter disrespect for decorum and propriety by the current ruling dispensation. The Parliament is not only a legislative body but also a deliberative forum. The introduction of any Bill must be preceded by wider consultation and diffused and decentralized discussion, particularly on Farm Bills, as agriculture is state subject, and thus, the State Governments have as much stakes as the Central Government and recourse to inter-state trade, an entry in union list is disingenuous. The Modi government in its second phase has callously given go-bye to consensus-building exercise. There has been a tradition of holding a consultation and building consensus. Except during Emergency, all the governments attempted to build consensus among all the stake-holders. The famous Hindu Bills were first time introduced in 1951, but it were deferred in view of opposition and Nehru government used the time for wider consultation and genuine consensus and eventually succeeded in getting the Bill passed in 1955 and 1956. This approach of holding wider consultation and developing consensus informed the passing of the Legislation in all Government, including earlier NDA Government led by Vajpayee.

Similarly, Article 370 of the Constitution contained in-built mechanism for its abrogation, but with a caveat that mandated the passing of resolution to the same effect by the State Legislature. Any Legislation passed by Modi government in his second term has not seen any prior consultation with the stake-holders. In view of Agriculture falling in State List, the State Governments should have been taken on the board as it had grave implications for federalism, a basic feature of the constitution. Apart from taking State Governments and Opposition Parties into confidence, there is a mechanism evolved over the year in the realm of practice and procedure of the Parliament to send the Bill to the Select Committee for deeper scrutiny. The Modi government has departed from this salutary practice of sending the Bill to Select Committee for close and minute examination. In the process, the Government has treated the procedure of the Parliament with contempt bordering on the most blatant kind of arrogance, impunity and insolence.

Rushing through these bills without discussion and any participation by opposition parties in Rajya Sabha has not only undermined the parliamentary sanctity but also denigrated the office of the presiding officer of Rajya Sabha. The legislature is not only a legislative body but is also a deliberative body. Without parliamentary approval, the Government cannot pass the budget. The policies of the Government should be subjected to close and minute scrutiny by the Members of the Parliament. This requires sturdy independence and non-partisan behaviors on the part of the Speaker. It is this neutrality which alone can inspire confidence and in the office of the speaker. It is this neutrality which alone can inspire confidence in the office of the speaker and impart dignity to the functioning of august body. The Opposition parties must have confidence that they will receive a fair hearing from the Speaker all the times. The confidence in the impartiality of the Speaker is an indispensible condition for successful working of the Parliament or State Legislature.

The disdain and hubris with which the Modi government has treated the decorum and sanctity of the parliamentary democracy have given rise to issue of power and legitimacy. Merely because the government has numbers does not mean it can railroad the legislation without prior consultation and any meaningful scrutiny. The dispassionate debate and deliberation are the essence of democracy. The departing from deliberation and well-entrenched practice and procedure of the Parliament and rendering the Rajya Sabha, which is an integral part of parliamentary democracy, redundant makes the exercise of rushing through the Farm Bills wholly illegimate. Modi government in its hour of arrogance has obliterated the distinction between power and legitimacy.

All the Opposition Parties must fight tooth and nail to the passing of Farm Bills. As the labour falls in the Concurrent List, State Legislature is competent to pass Legislation. In fact, there is Legislation on the subject passed by many States but these legislations now stand overridden in view of the latest Parliamentary Enactment. The State Governments ruled by Opposite Parties may, however, resort to passing fresh Legislation and sending it to the President for his constitutional imprimatur as envisaged under Article 254 of the Constitution, and when the Presidential imprimatur is granted, the State Law in a particular State would override the present Parliamentary Enactment. It is incumbent upon the Opposite Parties, who are ruling in many States, to take recourse to this constitutional provision.

(Vijay Kumar, Advocate, Supreme Court of India)

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