With little over two months to go before his term ends, President Pranab Mukherjee has expressed concern over decline in time devoted to legislation in Parliament, saying privileges vested in elected representatives by the Constitution was being substantially wasted.
Delivering the first Bhairon Singh Shekhawat Memorial Lecture here, the President on Monday said that "India cannot continue to be a democratic role model to the world simply on the basis of the size of its electorate".
The President also presented the 1st Bhairon Singh Shekhawat Lifetime Achievement Honour in Public Service to Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling.
Congratulating Chamling, who has been Chief Minister since 1994, Mukherjee said Sikkim was emerging as role model for Indian states.
The President, who delivered a lecture on "History of Parliamentary Democracy in India", called upon the elected representatives to uphold the high traditions established by eminent personalities during the freedom movement.
"If prominent legislators of pre-Independence days with limited powers could have done so much, how much more can be done by our MPs, MLAs and MLCs of today," he asked.
He expressed concern over the reduction in time devoted to legislation in Parliament, terming it "most unfortunate" and the increase in time lost due to interruptions.
"The rights enshrined in the Constitution, endorsed by Indian people from 1952 to 2017 by participating in 14 parliamentary elections, we are substantially wasting that privilege given to us, the members, and to my mind this is a pernicious state. You can't remain a role model to the world simply because of the size of your electorate unless you have quality in your deliberations, discussions."
Mukherjee said that job of legislators was one of "24x7" responsibility and they must, at all times, be responsive to problems and concerns of people.
He said the Parliament had tremendous power and no money could be spent from the ex-chequer, no tax imposed or new services created without the approval of Parliament and similar was the case with state assemblies.
"This huge power vested in the members of Lok Sabha, members of legislative assemblies of all 29 states by 800 million people...if we do not utilise that privilege and power, we are ourselves to blame," he said.
Mukherjee said three Ds -- debate, dissention, decision -- were always important in parliamentary functioning.
Mukherjee said parliament and assemblies were the primary instruments of good governance and socio-economic change.
He termed reduction in time devoted to legislation in Parliament as "most unfortunate"
He said the first Lok Sabha from 1952-57 had 677 sittings, in which 319 bills were passed, while the 14th Lok Sabha had 332 sittings and passed just 247 bills. The 15th Lok Sabha had 357 sittings and passed 181 bills, while the 16th Lok Sabha has had 197 sittings and passed only 111 bills (up to the 10th session).
He said 9.95 per cent of total time was lost due to interruptions in the 10th Lok Sabha and a shocking 41.6 per cent in the 15th Lok Sabha.
He described former Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat as "a man of masses" and recalled his meetings with him. Mukherjee said that as the Vice Chairman of Planning Commission in the 90s, he received valuable suggestions from Shekhawat, who was then the Chief Minister of Rajasthan.
He also referred to disbanding of Planning Commission and creation of Niti Aayog and said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given a new dimension to planned development, synchronising it with "a totally liberated economy".
The President said over 25 years had passed since the liberalisation in 1991 and "all the major hindrances of liberalised economic policy have been removed" by making major changes, including investment in defence production.
The lecture, organised on Shekhawat's death anniversary, was attended by Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhra Raje, State Governor Kalyan Singh, Punjab Governor V.P. Singh Badnore and former Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
All of them paid glowing tributes to Shekhawat, who served as country' Vice President from 2002 to 2007. Members of his family were also present.
(Prashant Sood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)