Full transcript of the BBC Hindi special programme, Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath, with the Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee on: Is it possible to maintain impartiality and dignity of Indian parliamentary democracy in today's deteriorating political atmosphere?
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Speaker, is it possible to maintain impartiality and dignity of Parliament in today’s deteriorating political atmosphere?
Somnath Chatterjee : In a democracy, it is natural that there would be differences among political parties on many issues, and these are reflected in the parliament also. At times, parties get excited over some particular issues which appear important to them. It is true that the parliament does not always function normally, but we are making efforts, and I am hopeful that by talking to all, in the coming days, we would be able to see the house conducting business smoothly.
BBC listener : Sir, the judiciary of the country does not take orders from political bosses, however the recent controversy over Jharkhand has proved that there is a lack of accountability. How can there be accountability in decisions which affect public of the country?
Somnath Chatterjee : The issue is dignity of both Legislature and Judiciary. The Constitution clearly states that all its major pillars should work independently, showing respect to each other, which means the Legislature, Judiciary and Executive should be working harmoniously, but if any of the pillars tries to cross its Lakshman Rekha and interferes in the working of the other, it is bound to create problems for all.
BBC listener from Jodhpur : Sir, articles 122 and 212 of the Constitution clearly state that role of Legislature is supreme. The intervention of Supreme Court in Jharkhand was a matter of shock, but don’t you think that it is act of some in the legislature who are responsible for this confusion and mess today?
Somnath Chatterjee : The MPs and the MLAs would have to behave responsibly and uphold the constitutional values, so that judiciary or any other arm does not get a chance to interfere in the internal legislative working. The entire issue started with the decision of Jharkhand governor -- there is no doubt that his decision was wrong, but could another wrong on top of it have rectified the things? Two wrongs do not make a right.
So many cases are pending in courts, there is a sense of fear in ordinary people regarding delay in cases and rising costs. Criminal cases are not decided in time, they linger on for years, more than 10 years in some cases, how law has to be implemented, what is to be done for speedy disposal – all these things require reforms, but these reforms have to done internally by the judiciary. Can the legislature rectify this by interfering in it from outside? It cannot.
What I am saying is there can be no violation of the constitutional provisions. Absolutely, there was a mistake on the part of the governor, but how could the second mistake have rectified this?
Nagendar Sharma : Sir, after the Supreme Court’s interim order on Jharkhand "preponing" the date of vote of confidence by Shibu Soren government, you convened an all party meeting, which was boycotted by the major opposition party. The central government did not go ahead with the resolution of all party meeting seeking presidential reference and today (Sunday’s) the Speakers' meet saw some of the speakers not attending. Isn’t it a cause of disappointment for you ?
Somnath Chatterjee : I am not disappointed at all. Speakers of four-five assemblies decided not to participate, a couple of others could not come due to genuine reasons, there was no politics in it. So far as the decision of these four-five speakers is concerned, it is a sad thing. In fact there was a statement that they are not attending the meeting as their party and alliance had asked them to stay away. I know one thing, that if for example tomorrow I say that I am doing a particular thing as my party CPI(M) has asked me to do so, then I should also be ready for public criticism. My view is parties should leave speakers alone to decide for themselves and work to safeguard the constitutional provisions.
The meeting of presiding officers was not on Jharkhand issue, let me make it clear -- it was to ensure the smooth and independent functioning of legislature, without any confrontation with any other arm of the state. I am the speaker of the Lok Sabha, the House of people’s representatives of the world’s largest democracy, I cannot silently see any interference in the functioning of legislature, if I remain silent, then I would be failing in my duty.
Nagendar Sharma : What is your view on the Supreme Court’s interim decision on Jharkhand?
Somnath Chatterjee : It was a wrong decision. With due respect for the judiciary, which I fully respect, I say the Supreme Court should not have given this decision. It was not judiciary’s work. Whatever happened in Jharkhand assembly on the day decided by Supreme Court for vote of confidence was there for all to see. What would have the Court done after that? Could it have jailed the pro-tem speaker and the MLAs? Could it have sent police inside the assembly?
Finally, see the solution to this complex problem did not come from the Supreme Court order of 9th March. It was solved when the Centre decided to ask Shibu Soren for his resignation, following which a new government was formed, which proved its majority in the assembly. So the solution did not come from Supreme Court.
I have myself been a lawyer for more than fifty years, and I have immense respect for the judiciary, I have nothing to say against the judiciary, what I am stressing upon is that any wrong committed weakens the spirit of the Constitution. My submission is when I have been entrusted the duty of safeguarding the Constitution, then judiciary should not worry on this count.
BBC listener from Gujarat : Sir, don’t you feel you are confused at the ideological level. On one hand you are talking of separation of powers and you hold judicial interference in legislative work wrong, on the other hand, when the legislature is failing in its duty and the judiciary is trying to rectify it, you are talking of reforms in judiciary?
Somnath Chatterjee: I have never said that I would reform the judiciary. All I am doing is fulfilling the constitutional duty entrusted to me. Let me make it clear that no-one else would be able to do my work, similarly as I would not be able to do the work which judiciary is supposed to be doing.
Remember, mistakes can be committed by anyone. Are you trying to say that no mistakes are made in courts? See, there have been many cases where the Supreme Court has revised High Court decisions, and there have been cases where judgements delivered by full benches of High Courts have been revised by the Supreme Court. Similarly many appeal courts have turned down the verdicts of trial courts. So we have to learn from mistakes and move forward.
It is not a question of reforms from outside and other related comments. I have never said that judiciary should not do its work, I never said that the Supreme Court order on Jharkhand should not be implemented. What I am saying is that is a disturbing situation, and such situations should be handled carefully.
In a democracy like ours, the work of all the arms has been clearly defined. Does anyone want that Parliament be shut down? Would the judiciary be able to run the country? would the judiciary make laws and pass the budget and bring reforms? Is the judiciary capable of doing legislative business? Would it be able to do all this ?
We have highest respect for the judiciary, we have experienced and eminent jurists in the country, but the point I am making is that each arm has to do the work as enshrined in the Constitution. No arm can work for the other like the legislature cannot do the work of the executive.
Nagendar Sharma : But developments in recent days show there is no guarantee of one arm of the Constitution not interfering in the work of another. What do you think could guarantee mutual respect?
Somnath Chaterjee : There can be no guarantee. How can there be a guarantee? But what is important is that the spirit of the Constitution be followed. It is the tallest and applies to all in this country. We do not want any clash with any other arm of the state. What we are saying is that there should not be any curb on the legislature. If there is, then a voice would have to be raised against this. What has happened at the meeting of presiding officers is we have just said that we want what has been enshrined in the Constitution to be followed. We do not want any confrontation with the judiciary, it is not in the interest of anyone when two arms of the state could be at loggerheads with each other.
BBC listener from Florida : Sir, you have made sincere efforts during last nine months to restore the dignity of Lok Sabha. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that most of the MPs are not educationally qualified to represent the people. Why is there no minimum qualification?
Somnath Chatterjee : It is not that by being a graduate or similar qualifications, the behaviour of the MPs would change. At the moment you see many educated MPs rushing to the well of the House and raising slogans. Merely the educational qualification criterion would not help, What I say is that raise the issue which you want to, participate in discussions, but listen to what the others are saying -- you do not have to agree with what the other or opposing camp is saying, but how would you react without listening? So it is not education, but the policy you follow, your wish-list regarding what you want to do as a public representative -- it all depends on many factors.
BBC listener from Bihar : Sir, today the behaviour of members in the Indian Parliament has made a joke out of our country in the world. Foreigners mock at us -- why is it that even an illustrious Speaker like you appears helpless rather than dealing strongly with this rowdyism?
Somnath Chatterjee : At times I feel what you are saying is right. There are rules and regulations regarding suspension and removal from the House, but such rules can only be implemented if there is unanimity in the House. You cannot suspend and take similar harsh measures when around 140-150 MPs start disrupting the proceedings. I do not want to take the help of such rules, but MPs should think that when the House is in session, during those days, when they go home after 6 PM, they should ask themselves what was their progress throughout the day -- what did they do to do justice with public faith and money being spent on them?
Nagendar Sharma : Sir, sorry to interrupt you.. But in your nine terms as MP, your almost entire time was an opposition MP, there were disruptions earlier, you have led protests yourself, how do you want all this to change now ?
Somnath Chatterjee : What you are saying is right. I personally never used to rush to the well of the House, but since I was the Parliamentary leader of my party, I cannot say we did not do such things, at times my party colleagues have rushed to the well. But what is disturbing is the trend that your voice would only be heard if you disrupt proceedings totally. People like Vajpayeeji, Malhotraji, who are in opposition today, were in power during the previous Lok Sabhas, and they used to severely criticise us for not allowing the House to function. They repeatedly said the opposition was not allowing the Question Hour and other business. I want to say to them today that do not repeat the mistake which we made during the previous Lok Sabhas. Leave behind what has happened in the past, come let us join hands to strengthen parliamentary democracy, and start a new era of smooth functioning, which would encourage the people of the country to watch the proceedings with respect.
Nagendar Sharma : Sir, you have said all pillars and organs of democracy and constitution should work within their ‘Lakshman Rekha’, but if any of these crosses the limit in future, what happens?
Somnath Chatterjee : I appeal to all the arms to work within the Constitutional provisions, helping each other. If this is not followed and anyone tries to do the work of other, leaving its own work, the country would face a difficult situation and it would lead to a serious crisis.
BBC listener from Oman : Sir, why is there no rule to deal punitively with members obstructing Parliamentary proceedings and why has the Women’s Reservation Bill been put in cold storage?
Somnath Chatterjee : There are rules, but how can it be implemented when one-thirds of the total members of the House start behaving in an inappropriate manner, and I do not want to use such rules. I believe in dialogue with the members.
I think the government should immediately introduce the Women’s Reservation Bill in the parliament. Major political parties had promised this to the electorate during the elections, and they should honour their commitment. I am in the chair, I cannot direct the government to bring the Bill, but I promise to give time when the Bill is brought before the House.
Nagendar Sharma : Do you have a sense of satisfaction in your nine-month tenure as a Speaker, are you being able to do what you wanted to?
Somnath Chatterjee : No I am not satisfied. I would not say I have achieved success in what I wanted to do. However, the things are moving and I am concentrating on things one after the other. The confrontational politics in this country is directly reflected in the parliamentary proceedings. Political parties think that by disrupting the House, they have achieved what they wanted to and that they have been heard -- this is a wrong notion. I say, lead as many movements and agitations outside the House, why bring them inside? And concentrate on your speaking skills in the Parliament, speak loudly, angrily, criticise each other, but allow the House to run.
The situation which we are faced with today, presents a serious threat to the parliamentary democracy. If the elected representatives do not understand their responsibility of behaving in the House, eventually public trust would be destroyed. I have met numerous youth and student delegations, who have expressed their unhappiness over the scenes in Parliament and state legislatures. Remember, failure of parliamentary democracy means military dictatorship as the only other option. I appeal to youth to come forward to strengthen the parliamentary democracy by active participation in it.