March 01, 2015

Attempt to Circumvent Parliamentary Democracy

THE budget session of the parliament, the session in which the Modi government will present its full-fledged budget substantiating its aggressive advocacy of the neo-liberal economic reform trajectory, began this week.  The session began with the Modi government appearing to brazen out the reality of the Delhi assembly election result – a result which shows that this Modi government is, perhaps, seeing the growing of an anti-incumbency sentiment in probably the shortest period of time after assuming the reins of government by any party at the centre.  Within nine months of forming the government at the centre, the Modi government had to bite the dust with the Delhi electorate inflicting a severe defeat upon the RSS/BJP.  This virtual decimation of the BJP came despite the fact that PM Modi himself led the campaign from the front seeking a vote for himself.  The campaign, accompanied by a multi-crore advertisement blitz, virtually sought to make the people of Delhi believe that PM Modi will also simultaneously function as the chief minister of Delhi! 


In the euphoria of the BJP’s single party majority following 2014 Lok Sabha elections (albeit, with a mere 31 per cent of all who voted), PM Modi had declared bombastically that the fate of the opposition was so dismal that they could travel in a bus! In the event, the Delhi electorate reduced the BJP to such a status that its three MLAs can now travel in an auto-rickshaw! 


Far from making this BJP government realise the ground realities that the illusions it had generated regarding people’s prosperity is simply vanishing into thin air, the Modi government is determinedly seeking to push ahead its neo-liberal economic reforms agenda. 


The Modi government moved to withdraw three crucial bills from the Rajya Sabha. Instead of replacing the ordinances it had promulgated on vital issues through amendments to the original bills, it sought  the withdrawal of these bills from the Rajya Sabha (where the BJP/NDA does not have a majority) in order to make way for the amended bills to be introduced and passed in the Lok Sabha (where it has a majority) and then bring them to the Rajya Sabha. These bills pertain to (a) coal and mines allocations (b) increase in the ceiling for foreign capital in the insurance sector and (c) the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill. The Rajya Sabha defeated this game-plan of the Modi government and forced them `to defer the bills’.  This is a peculiar situation.  The old bills remain as law since they could not be withdrawn.  The recent ordinances, unless approved within six weeks from the start of this session, will become null and void.  What this Modi government will now do will be carefully watched by the opposition in the Rajya Sabha.


The Modi government is continuously threatening that it shall call a joint session of the parliament and have these bills passed in order to circumvent the reality that it does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha. A joint sitting of both the houses which the constitution provides for decision making is different from a joint session, like the annual sessions where the president of India delivers his/her speech drawing up a balance-sheet of the government’s work, as approved by the union cabinet, or a joint session convened to hear a foreign Head of the State. This cannot take any legislative decisions and make laws.  The possibility of convening a joint sitting is spelt out in Article 108 of the Indian Constitution which states:


“(1) If after a Bill has been passed by one House and transmitted to the other House

(a) the Bill is rejected by the other House; or

(b) the Houses have finally disagreed as to the amendments to be made in the Bill; or

(c) more than six months elapse from the date of the reception of the Bill by the other House without the Bill being passed by it the President may, unless the Bill has lapsed by reason of a dissolution of the House of the People, notify to the Houses by message if they are sitting or by public notification if they are not sitting, his intention to summon them to meet in a joint sitting for the purpose of deliberating and voting on the Bill:


Provided that nothing in this clause shall apply to a Money Bill”.


The Indian Constitution, therefore, is very clear.  A joint session can only be called when, say, the Lok Sabha passes a bill and the Rajya Sabha rejects it. Or, a bill passed by one house remains without being passed by the other for more than six months.  In present case, the three bills that the Modi government wanted to withdraw from the Rajya Sabha, but failed, remain on the statute book.  Its plans to have these bills, in their amended form, passed in the Lok Sabha first and then brought to the Rajya Sabha is, thus, foiled.  On three other bills, the Rajya Sabha opted to constitute `select committees’ to examine the government’s amendments.  The report of one such committee has been presented to the house and, hence, it remains the property of the house until it is disposed off (either accepted, or, rejected).  The other two are awaited.  Hence, the Modi government’s machinations to circumvent the constitutional provisions of legislative processes under parliamentary procedures are foiled for the time being.  Unless unambiguously one house approves a legislation and the other house rejects it, no joint session can be convened.  The Modi government’s bluff, hence,  has been called.


In a similar effort, the Modi government is seeking to undo major provisions of the Land Acquisition Act that was passed by the parliament after many years of struggle, under the former UPA-I government, to protect the interests of our farmers whose land is going to be acquired and, importantly, to provide, by law, compensation and rehabilitation to those sections of the people who are not owners of the land but whose livelihood entirely depends on the agricultural activity on these lands.  A major section of such people are the agricultural labour who will be completely dispossessed if such lands are acquired and agricultural activities cease.


The Modi government seeks to negate some of such safeguards, which were forced by the Left parties upon the former UPA-II government through struggles both inside and outside the parliament.  Though such safeguards were halting in their nature, they, nevertheless represented some guarantee for protection.  Now the Modi government, through an amended bill moved in the Lok Sabha, abolishes, many, if not all, such safeguards and protection.   Amongst many such amendments, to give an illustration of the brazen manner in which this Modi government is promoting the interests of private profit maximisation is the amendment to allow land acquisition for private hospitals and private educational institutions.  They are proposed to be exempted from the legal compulsion to get the consent of the farmers whose land is being acquired.  The distinction between private and public sector projects is sought to be abolished. 


Similarly, the provision for a `social impact assessment’ in the original bill is sought to be negated. This provided the legal process for an impartial assessment of how much land is actually required for the project, how many families are going to be adversely affected, whether there is any alternative land available resulting in less people being displaced etc. Clearly, this is designed to permit private corporates to takeover much more land than required for the project in order to allow them to rake-in windfall profits through speculative real estate activities. The limit on the time that acquired land can be held by a corporate entity (ie, five years under the existing law after which if the project does not materialise, the land would have to be returned) has been removed in this amended legislation.  Also, the acquisition of multi-crop land is now being permitted which, in the original bill, was restricted. Instead of improving the original bill, as continuously suggested by the CPI(M) in parliament, the Modi government is negating even these limited safeguards and protection. 


Widespread protests have begun both inside and outside of the parliament against such amendments to the law by the Modi government.  BJP allies in the NDA like Shiv Sena, Akali Dal, Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janashakti have declared their opposition to this amended bill.  The, thus embarrassed Modi government was forced to give an assurance on the floor of the house that it shall only proceed with this amended bill only after consulting all the political parties.  Whether it will live up to such an assurance, only time can tell. 


Outside the parliament, major kisan and agricultural labour organisations affiliated to the Left parties had called for massive dharnas and protest actions against such proposals of the Modi government.  Anna Hazare and many variants of the `people’s movement’ have also jumped into the fray.  Anna Hazare had initially declared that political leaders will not be allowed to share his platform, but eventually the Delhi chief minister and a BJP ally in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Tamilnadu (MDMK) were prominently seen on his platform!


Clearly, from the very beginning of this budget session, the Modi government had announced loud and clear that its policy direction is brazenly aimed at advancing the interests of international finance capital and domestic corporates at the expense of the livelihood of major sections of our people.  The forthcoming budget’s direction, hence, is unlikely to be any different. 


The Modi government will seek to use its `tyranny of majority’ in the Lok Sabha to have such legislations passed even without permitting the scope for meaningful discussions and deliberations.  These will be opposed and sought to be blocked in the Rajya Sabha.  But given the fact that the Modi government is only aggressively pursuing the policy direction of the previous UPA-II government, it remains to be seen how consistent the Congress party will be in opposing these anti-people measures.


But, the real pressure on the Modi government to reverse this anti-people onslaught can only come through stronger and larger popular people’s mobilisations against such policies. It is this strength of the people’s struggles that will, in the final analysis, force this Modi government to reverse its policy direction.   


(February 25, 2015)