The just-concluded monsoon session of Parliament, the shortest in the recent memory, will be remembered more for bypassing the well-established conventions and procedures than for the official business it transacted. A healthy debate with room for nuance and scrutiny is what makes the democracy vibrant. Unfortunately, the brute majority had its way in muzzling the voices of dissent while the long-held norms and procedures were thrown to the winds using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse. If the suspension of the Question Hour eroded the right of the members to confront the government on public issues and hold the executive accountable, the tearing hurry with which some of the controversial legislations were pushed through reflected the government’s authoritarian streak and utter disregard for democratic debate. A Parliament session is not merely about some technicalities of procedures and rules but about displaying the spirit of accommodation, allowing wider consultations and subjecting government Bills to greater scrutiny. None of that was on display as the 18-day session was cut short eight days ahead of the schedule amidst tumultuous developments that saw the suspension of eight opposition MPs from the Rajya Sabha for a week for obstructing the House and the opposition, led by the Congress, boycotting the proceedings. The passage of a clutch of Bills in the absence of the opposition members does not augur well for parliamentary democracy, particularly since these legislations have a far-reaching impact on the livelihood of farmers and workers.
Farm Bills, labour code Bills, disinvestment of public sector units, the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 and the nod given for the construction of a new Parliament building by the government-appointed Central Vista committee were some of the policy agenda that was bulldozed in Parliament without any meaningful debate. While the farm Bills hit at the foundations of the three pillars of food security structure — Minimum Support Price, Public Procurement and Public Distribution System —, the labour code Bills have raised serious concerns over the future of workers and their occupational safety. There are widespread fears that the four labour codes, replacing over 40 labour laws, will end up promoting ‘ease of closing business’ rather than ‘ease of doing business’. The new labour law regime will make it easy for companies to lay off employees and prevent them from striking work. The Centre needs to address the concerns that the farm Bills and the amendments to the labour laws were meant to protect the interests of corporate India at the cost of welfare of farmers and labour, rather than building a mechanism for a well-negotiated social contract among them. The simplification of the existing plethora of labour laws should not lead to undermining the rights of workers.
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