February 18, 2020
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RS Debate: OOP

'It's A Bad Bill'

The nominated, non-party member of the House felt very strongly that the message from the President, should be exempted from the Anti-Defection Law, and that the seven weeks of time could have been used to deliberate and come up with a solution

'It's A Bad Bill'

Sir. I just want to make three or four points. First is about the role of Parliament. I believe this is, probably, the most momentous day in 59 years of Parliamentary history. There were two or three occasions when the Bills had been returned by the President of India, but I cannot recall a discussion on the memorandum which was sent by the President of India to this House. So, this is a very solemn, momentous occasion. Therefore, I rise to speak and the first point I want to make is about the role of Parliament. 

Sir, we heard a lot about the separation of powers. Dr. Alexander just mentioned it. Mr. Jaitley also mentioned it. But, Sir, I believe that it is all a myth. There is no longer any separation of powers except at a time when the Government has to be formed. It is a very important point and, therefore, I am making it in the presence of the Leaders of this House that once the Government is in power, the Executive decides what will happen. You see it in this Bill. 

You have seen it on March 18 to March 22 when what you saw happening in Parliament, I mean, I could not have believed that it was possible. You decided that the Parliament would be adjourned sine die. Then, you reconvened Parliament. It was decided that the Standing Committees would not consider the Budget. But, then you decided that the Standing Committees would consider the Budget after being passed in Parliament. You decided to pass the Finance Bill without discussion within three or four days. I did not even know that it was being discussed on that day. 

So, it is a very important occasion for us to deliberate and think about the role of Parliament. There is a thing called anti-defection law which was passed in 1985 by 52nd Amendment of the Constitution, and then amended further in 2003. Now, what does that anti-defection law do? We say that all of us are sovereign; all of us are great; all of us are fantastic; all of us are independent. But, say, there are half-a-dozen people on this and half-a-dozen people on that side who differed with the view of the party on the Presidential reference to this House, what would they do? They can't do anything. It is as good as taken that even if this Bill, whatever it said, whether it was Constitutional or unconstitutional, it is going to be passed by this House.

So, Sir, let us deliberate on this issue that, at least, voting on the references from the President, should be exempted from the Anti-Defection Law. But it is not. You can take it for granted that the Bill, as it is -- whether it is good, whether it is bad -- is going to be passed by this House at the end of the day. Yes, you can call for a division. But on a Presidential Reference, it is not the Parliament which decides as to what will be done, it is the Executive which decides as to what will be done. It does not matter which is the Executive. We have a very good Executive. We have had very good Executive. But this is an issue which is central to the role of Parliament, the diminishing role of Parliament, the diminishing role of the Members of Parliament. 

I don't belong to any political party. So, I can defect, I can vote against or for. But none of the Leaders, none of the other Members have this particular option, even on a Presidential Reference, which could be vital to the country. Sir, the Presidential Reference here we are considering is not an issue or matter of national security.

H.R. Bhardwaj: Sir, this is not a 'Reference'. It is a 'Message'. I may just inform you.

Dr Bimal Jalan: I take your point, Sir. (Interruptions)

H.R. Bhardwaj: You are a responsible Member of Parliament. There is a difference between a Reference and a Message. For example, the British Queen transacts business through References, our President sends Messages, which we have to discuss. 

Dr Bimal Jalan: Sir, I beg your pardon. But, Sir, will you tell me how many times...(Interruptions)... Sir, I beg your pardon. I did not know. Will you tell me how many times has this House discussed a message from the President, the Head of the State? How many times has it happened? Does it violate the simple point that I am trying to make? I am not an authority; I used the wrong words. But the importance of the occasion cannot be denied, and, that is what we are trying to do. I beg your pardon, Sir. Please forgive me. How many times in the 59 years of India's parliamentary history, have you discussed a message from the President of India, the Head of the State? How many times, Sir? The President of India, a distinguished scientist, is one of the foremost citizens of our country. How does this...(Interruptions)

H.R. Bhardwaj: Once again, I request, let us not bring the President into...(Interruptions) You cannot bring.. (Interruptions)

Dr Bimal Jalan:  Sir, in 59 years of India's democracy.. (Interruptions) The point that I am trying to make is...(Interruptions)

It is not an occasion. It is not an important occasion. Let us say. It is only a Presidential message. It is not an important occasion. But, Sir, I do not accept that, with due apologies. I have greatest respect for the Law Minister. 

Sir, the second point that I wanted to make is-- and I want to refer it to the Leaders of the House -- what is this separation of powers, what is this role of Anti-Defection Law, the role of the Members, independents, all the big words that we use? Do they mean anything? The Party Leaders decide as to what will happen, the Parties decide as to what will happen, that's it, and, that will happen today, as you will see today.

Now, the second point I wanted to make about the Bill is-- and, I would like to take the point of Dr. Alexander -- what the Constitution says is that you cannot hold an office of profit. But you can certainly hold an office of non-profit. I am using the words, 'profit' and 'non-profit' as mutually exclusive. Therefore, if you want to say that an MP should not hold any office, then you have to amend the Constitution and say that he should not hold any office. So, the issue here is 'profit' and 'non-profit'. And, I believe, it is a matter of discussion whether he should hold an office or not hold an office. But the real issue is defining as to what is the office of profit, or, on its contrary, what is the office of non-profit, which we have not done. 

Now, if I look at the list of these offices, none of these offices seem to me to be office of profit, prima-facie. But, we have not defined it. We have not defined as to what is the office of non-profit. I would have hoped that this particular occasion will be taken to define that 'office of profit', and, I know, it has been said in the Press that we don't know what is like negligible, what is not negligible. But, we know what is an office of non-profit. I had taken some sort of certain courage of suggesting to the Law Minister as to how to define it. 

My disappointment with the Government, with due apologies to the hon. Prime Minister and the Cabinet Ministers, is that the President's reference, a reference message for a re-consideration with arguments, came seven weeks ago. So, this seven weeks of time could have given us some time to deliberate on this issue and hopefully, come up with a solution which the CPM is now asking for or the other Members are asking for in the mean time. And that would have been the response that I would have expected, that I would have hoped for. 

But, so far as the offices themselves are concerned, it is a bad Bill because it exempts specific offices. Waqf Board, it may be in one State but not in another State, but there is no question in my mind that many of these things are probably not offices of profit but offices of non-profit. The problem is, not defining it in 59 years of India's independence. And I would have hoped that rather than presenting the Bill as it is, because it happens to be a message from the President of India, that we would have deliberated on it during that period, given some cognizance to the points made by the hon. President and come up with a Bill which would have resolved the kind of issues that the leader of the CPM or the speaker on behalf of the CPM is today asking the Congress to do. 

We had seven weeks of time. Why it could not be done in these seven weeks, which can be done in the next six months, I do not know. And, if more time was necessary, I would have hoped there would be an introductory thing that we need more time and, therefore, we have come up with this * solution to a problem, which is not of national security, which is not of great national importance. But, yes, I mean, where it is consequential, I don't mind it being exempted. 

So, Sir, I just wanted to make these three or four points. When all things have been done, when this Bill is passed, as it is going to be, when the Parliament is going to assert its sovereignty by passing the Bill, which it may or may not like, I hope that in future we will not have to face this kind of an occasion at least for another sixty-five or sixty years. 

* Expunged as order by the Chair.

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