Initiating policy and legislative decisions as a reaction to public events in India

In the Parliamentary democracy we follow, it is the prerogative of the legislating bodies, viz. the Parliament and State Assemblies to enact laws. In the sphere of legislation, the Constitution provides that the Parliament is the supreme law making body of the country. However, this authority of the Parliament is not exercised in vacuum. The civil society, media and the citizens at large often put pressure on the law making bodies to address their concerns by framing new laws or amending previous ones.

This is also considered as a sign of a vibrant democracy. This is because it ensures that the non-State actors are in constant interaction with the State. Their role is not limited to voting once in five years only. They are in a constant process of engagement.

But the way some laws have been framed in recent years, has been criticized in some quarters. It has been argued that law making is moving towards a growing trend of initiating policy and legislative decisions, solely as a reaction to public events. While referring to enactment of the National Investigation Agency Act and recent changes in the Indian Penal Code to incorporate stricter penalties for crimes against women, it is argued that bills like these and others have been passed without effective scrutiny. That they were not referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee for examination has been cited as evidence of the argument.

It has also been argued that our law-making process is adhoc in nature. Thus it is geared towards churning out legislation that is neither entirely based on evidence nor takes feedback from different stakeholders into account. The National Commission to review the working of the Constitution had observed that “our legislative enactments betray clear marks of hasty drafting and absence of Parliament scrutiny from the point of view of both the implementers and the affected persons and groups”

Keeping in mind these arguments, it is not difficult to see that some legislations have indeed been framed due to political exigencies and intense public pressure. However to argue that this has been a common practice would not be altogether justified.

In this context it would be do us good to remember that the importance of stakeholder consultation has also been stressed by the parliamentary committee examining the land acquisition bill. In its report on the bill, the committee recommended that, “before bringing in any bill in future, the government should ensure wider, effective and timely consultations with all relevant and stakeholders so that all related issues are addressed adequately”. The National Advisory Council has also suggested a process of pre-legislative scrutiny of bills and delegated legislation.

Since new laws can have a significant impact on the lives of people, it is important that our law-makers enact “effective laws”. For this to happen our law-making process needs to evolve. While there will always be public pressure for new laws, the solution lies in ensuring that the law-making process is robust, consultative and deliberative.

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