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“House disruptions help the government,” N. K. Premchandran, veteran Opposition MP

Poornima Joshi, A. M. Jigeesh New Delhi | Updated on August 13, 2021

N. K. Premchandran

‘The present government has not reached the Opposition to pass Bills and run away from discussions’

Four-term Lok Sabha MP N. K. Premchandran is counted among the most diligent parliamentarians in India. While an active trade unionist and vocal critic of the Government, he believes that disruption as a parliamentary strategy is long past its expiry date especially when it suits the Government not to have any debate on contentious bills. Premchandran spoke to BusinessLine about the disintegration of the parliamentary process. Excerpts from the interview:

Why do you think disruptions are helping the government in Parliament?

More than 20 Bills were passed in this Session that include extremely critical bills such as Tribunal Reforms Bill which replaces an Ordinance. This is continuing an insidious process that started in 2017 when the Centre amended as many as 44 Acts, including laws like the Cinematograph Act and the Green Tribunal Act, through the Finance Bill. Through the Finance Bill route, they circumvented the Rajya Sabha scrutiny of these amendments because they would not have passed muster unless muscled in through the Money Bill. The Supreme Court subsequently struck down the amendments to the Green Tribunal Act. In order to override the Supreme Court verdict not just in the case of green tribunals but all other tribunals, they came with a general Act called the Tribunal Amendments Bill. This was passed without any debate and the result is that the Centre can now constitute any tribunal without a separate Act or parliamentary oversight. This is centralisation of power. This is a very important legislation that affects the Industrial Disputes Act, Railway Claims Tribunals Act, SEBI Act, AAI Act, TRAI Act, Trademarks Act and a number of other legislations.

Another important Bill is the Essential Defence Services Bill. Fortyone Ordnance factories under the Ordnance Factories Board are being converted into corporations. This Bill permanently prohibits strikes in the factories under Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). Penalties include jail term and dismissal from work. Their move is to privatise 41 ordnance factories. Now 100 per cent FDI is permissible in the defence sector at a time when ordinance factory workers have been declaring indefinite strikes. The Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had said this Bill will be for one year. Employees had given notices to go on an indefinite strike from July 26. The Ordinance banning strikes was brought on June 30. In order to meet a strike, the Centre promulgated an Ordinance and started the privatisation of the OFB. It is not even a proper law. This Bill is just for converting the OFB into corporations.

The trade unions want their objections to come in Parliament. I opposed the Bill at the stage of introduction itself. No one cares if there is a disruption in Parliament. Only a democratic Government will be concerned about the disruptions in Parliament. Earlier, during the UPA Government or when AB Vajpayee was Prime Minister, the Government would reach out to the Opposition . They will offer a compromise formula. At the time, such protests had a value. Nowadays, it is not a democratic government that is in office. This Government is taking the advantage of the interruptions to push through their agenda. They are taking the advantage of the situation and bulldozing the Bills. They could also run away from a discussion on Pegasus issue. If the House was running in a smooth way, the Centre was bound to answer the questions of the Opposition. Opposition has to change the strategy because this is not a democratic Government.

But bills have been passed in the din in the past too. What is the difference between then and now?

We never heard passing Bills regularly during disruptions. Bills passed in din only at certain urgent and exigent matters. That too very rarely. Here, they are passing Bills regularly in din. It has never happened. All the other Governments in the past had requested the Opposition to cooperate in passing the Bills. This Government does not offer even a compromise formula. Not even a single Minister has said that they are ready to discuss Pegasus. The Prime Minister says outside that they are ready to discuss all issues. They have not reached the Opposition to pass Bills and run away from discussions. They do not respect Parliament. Everyday, the Prime Minister and Home Minister come to Parliament but they will not attend the proceedings. This shows the disrespect they have to Parliamentary democracy.

You were the only one who moved amendments to the General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Amendment Bill. How critical do you think are the changes introduced through the latest amendments?

They are clearly de-nationalising the insurance companies. But the Centre never uses the word de-nationalisation. What is the meaning of doing away with the control of the Centre? It means de-nationalisation. They do not want control. This is a total sell-out.

Why do you say that the parliamentary procedure is getting disintegrated?

Sending a Bill to a Parliamentary Committee is very important. Under this Government, just 12 per cent of the Bills have gone to any of the standing committees. In the Kerala Assembly, if the government wants to change a comma or a full stop, the Bill has to go to subject committees. It is mandatory. Only after the subject committee’s clearance, the Bill will come to the Assembly. Even punctuations are important for interpretation of a statute. We have to admire our forefathers for framing a concrete system of scrutinising Bills. But under this Government, that system is being destabilised. The only beneficiary of this is the Government and its friends.

Published on August 13, 2021

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