Putting to vote every executive decision is neither healthy for policymaking nor, indeed, for parliamentary democracy.

The Opposition, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left, is not justified in seeking a debate on the Government’s decision allowing foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail under a parliamentary motion that entails voting. The notification enabling the likes of Walmart, Tesco and Carrefour to set up retail outlets in India was an executive action that required neither prior nor post facto parliamentary approval. Moreover, it was a policy decision taken by an elected Government enjoying the confidence of the House. And unlike, say the allocation of 2G mobile spectrum in 2008 or awarding of coal blocks to select players without following any fair and transparent procedure, there was nothing illegal, whimsical or arbitrary per se in the decision to open up retail to global supermarket chains. Under the circumstances, demanding a vote under so-called Rule 184 on a motion, stating that “This House disapproves the Government’s decision to allow FDI in multi-brand retail”, sets a dangerous precedent. It is bad enough that we have a policy paralysis. If, on top of it, every decision, regarding matters on which the Government’s executive authority has been delegated by Parliament itself, is questioned through this route, the resultant administrative paralysis would be a disaster beyond description.

The correct course for the Opposition would have been to adopt what the Trinamool Congress tried: Bring a general no-confidence motion against the Government, showing it had lost the trust of the House to take any major policy decisions. But since such a motion would take the spotlight away from FDI in retail, it may not have served the Opposition’s real purpose — to pin down the Government on an issue, where even key ruling coalition allies like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party have expressed reservations. Not being able to muster the required numbers for an FDI-specific motion would lead to the Government facing embarrassment, not to speak of the practical difficulties in implementing its decision. That explains why a debate confined to FDI and entailing voting is something it does not want — and which definitely sets a dangerous precedent by questioning the policymaking powers of elected governments delegated by the Constitution and the lawmakers themselves.

If the Opposition genuinely wants a roll-back of the decision on allowing FDI in retail, why not do it by moving a private member’s bill to amend the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act itself? Such an amendment would basically curtail the Government's powers to decide the sectors in which FDI is prohibited — or exempted, as was done by way of issuing a 'Press Note' in the case of multi-brand retail. Parliamentarians are, above all, lawmakers and it is this instrument of legislative enactment that they ought to be using to make the Government do what they deem is in public interest. The alternative of putting to vote every executive decision is not healthy either for policymaking or for parliamentary democracy.

(This article was published on November 25, 2012)
XThese are links to The Hindu Business Line suggested by Outbrain, which may or may not be relevant to the other content on this page. You can read Outbrain's privacy and cookie policy here.