DC Edit | Presiding officers' conduct leaves a lot to be desired

The presiding officers of both Houses of the Parliament are the custodians of the prestige of their respective units and the rights of its members. They are vested with the powers to ensure that MPs are able to use the floor as a platform for meaningful debate just so that the process of effective legislation takes place. Democratic practice demands the Chair be careful that the Opposition voice is not lost in the Treasury’s loud majority.

Yet the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, unfortunately, has begun acting as if he is the ultimate arbiter of whatever is spoken of late. His partisan attitude seeks to smother this voice through the hurling of abuse at Opposition leaders even as he keeps a blind eye turned to the trespasses of the Treasury benches, and it will surely end up lowering the dignity of his office, and of the House itself.

Mr Jagdeep Dhankhar has fired his latest salvo against Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member P. Chidambaram who criticised the new criminal laws as having been “drafted by part-timers”. This, according to him, has been “an inexcusable insult to the wisdom of Parliament”.

It may be remembered that Union home minister Amit Shah, while defending these three laws last week, said he and the government were open to constructive criticism, and if required, changes in the laws would be incorporated. Which goes to show that there is insufficient parliamentary oversight to the law-making process. And that’s no surprise, for as per Mr Shah’s own admission, the three, which together comprise 1,000-odd sections, were debated in the Rajya Sabha for a total of six hours and 17 minutes, in the absence of the Opposition.

Earlier, the government had to withdraw three farm laws, too, its attempts to convince protesting farmers that it was willing to engage them over amendments notwithstanding. And this is not all.

The NDA government has too often been accused of rushing legislation, and it is in fact the job of the Chair to point this out and defend the right of the House to debate the bills thoroughly. Unfortunately, they do not, doing the bidding of the government instead.

The House is no court of justice, and its members are allowed to make bona fide statements. By insisting that MPs authenticate every statement made, the Chair, in fact, stands in the way of their freedom of expression. It is one thing for the government side to object to their statement and totally another for the Chairman to, himself, intervene. That is turning the whole idea of free speech on its head.

Mr Dhankhar’s suggestion the other day that a particular member replace the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Mr Mallikarjun Kharge, not only exceeded his brief but was insulting to one of its senior-most members.

The Rajya Sabha, or the Council of States, is also known as the House of Elders because of the presence of the best and most experienced political brains there, as also for the quality of discussions they engage in. Thus conceived, it is the duty of the Chair to ensure that its character is preserved. Is Mr Dhankhar failing to perform it?

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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