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Amend anti-defection law to cut fragmentation of parties: Jalan

New Delhi, Aug 7 (IANS) Former Reserve Bank of India Governor Bimal Jalan says anti-defection law should be amended to reduce the built-in incentive for the fragmentation of parties and to improve governance by making members to seek re-election if they switch sides.

He also feels it is of utmost importance that the anti-defection law be made applicable to all parties and so-called Independent members who choose to join a coalition government in power.

“In other words, parties that join a coalition should not be able to defect without having to seek re-election. Such an amendment to the anti-defection law will go a long way in strengthening the principle of collective responsibility of the cabinet to the people, as enshrined in the Constitution,” says Jalan in his book “India: Priorities for the Future” published by Penguin.

Under the present consitutional provisions, Jalan says, as a consequence of amendments carried out in 1985 and in 2013 to prevent defections, now there is also a “built-in perverse incentive” for the fragmentation of political parties at the time of election.

This is because the smaller a party, the greater the ability of an individual legislator to defect to another party in search of political power. Thus, for example a member elected from large national party has very little discretion to defect without the support of a substantial number of other members who also wished to defect.

Jalan, who was a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha from 2003 to 2009, says that, however, if the same person is a member of a small party of five or ten members, a consensus to defect among all of them or only three or four of them, and switch from one coalition to another, is easier to achieve.

“The same is true of the so-called ‘Independent’ members who are supported by some political party during elections. In a situation where multi-party coalitions are the norm, all regional or caste leaders with a handfull of constituencies naturally have a much greater incentive to form their own separate parties rather than join a large party,” he says.

In the Lok Sabha, with 543 elected members, a party with, say 10 or 15 members (even less), can join the government, enjoy ministerial berths and then delay or help in amending a cabinet decision on an important policy measure.

Similarly, he says, a party with even three or four seats can join the government and choose the portfolio it wishes. If things don’t work out, any small party or a combination of such parties can threaten to leave the government and destablise it.

Referring to the functioning of Parliament, Jalan, who was Reserve Bank of India Governor between 1997 and 2003, says it does not matter whether Parliament meets or not because even during disruptions what the government wants to do is anyway done regardless, in one way or the other.

“The responsibility of the executive to the legislature is also largely a myth and is of no particular consequence. There are, of course, occassions and debates in Parliament on important national issues or of exceptionally high quality, and the government is responsive to the concerns expressed by members in Parliament (for example, in respect of Goods and Services Tax in 2016-17),” he says.

Jalan also suggests some steps for implementing the strict rules of business in Parliament which should not be violated. He says, in theory the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha have powers to expel a member from the House or suspend him or her.

But these powers have seldom been exercised. A convention has been developed whereby the house can be adjourned several times during a day in the event of disruption by a few members.

He feels it may be specifically provided, by legislation, that either house of Parliament cannot be disrupted more than twice in a week unless the listed business, including carried over business from previous occassions, has been completed after full discussion as scheduled.

Jalan also says no bill or legislative business should be approved by a voice vote. Is should be made compulsory to adopt all Bills after division and counting of votes. It should be made compulsory for the Budget and the Finance Bill to be passed only after consideration by standing committees of Parliament concerned.

The Speaker and the Chairman, he says, should be required mandatorily to suspend or expel the members who frequently disrupt the house.

About criminals in politics, Jalan says, a related urgent political reform is to reduce the attractiveness of politics as a career of choice by persons with criminal records.

The per cent incentive for persons who have criminal cases pending in higher courts of appeal should be effectively reversed by giving such cases the highest priority if the person concerned is actually elected to Parliament or state legislatures. Fast settlement of such cases would provide relief to persons with criminal charges who are actually innocent.

And those who are actually guilty may choose not to contest elections so that they are in a position to delay hearings through normal legal procedures, says Jalan.

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