PM flags concerns over repeated disruptions

New Delhi: Flagging concerns over "repeated disruptions" and "unwillingness" for discussions, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today appealed to members to restore the dignity and decorum in the Rajya Sabha.

Initiating the debate in the House on the completion of 60 years of the first sitting of Parliament, at the same time he said the history of the functioning of the House over the last 60 years proves that the trust reposed in it by the founding fathers of the Constitution has been substantially fulfilled.

"That is not to say that we should not reflect with concern on the repeated disruptions of proceedings and a regrettable unwillingness, on occasion, to engage in informed discussion," the Prime Minister noted.

He hoped that on this momentous occasion of the completion of 60 years of the functioning of the House members "can write a new chapter and restore to it the sense of dignity and decorum that is expected of a House of Elders."

Expressing disagreement with the general impression that Rajya Sabha cannot make or unmake governments and, therefore, it is a superfluous body, the Prime said there are functions, which a revising chamber can fulfil fruitfully.

Quoting philosopher-statesman S Radhakrishnan, he said, "Parliament is not only a legislative but a deliberative body. So far as its deliberative functions are concerned, it will be open to us to make very valuable contributions, and it will depend on our work whether we justify this two-chamber system, which is now an integral part of our Constitution.

"So it is a test to which we are submitted. We are for the first time starting under the Parliamentary system, with a second chamber in the Centre and we should try to do everything in our power to justify to the public of this country that a second chamber is essential to prevent hasty legislation," Singh said.

The Prime Minister said, "There is no doubt that one reason for India`s growing global stature in the world is the country`s unflinching commitment to pursuing a democratic path to achieving our social and economic salvation. It is therefore incumbent upon all of us to respect the great institutions of our democracy and respect the spirit of what is expected from the elected representatives."

The Prime Minister also chose the occasion to emphasise the increasing participation of people in the institutions of Parliamentary democracy. "The resilience of our pluralistic democracy is the proudest achievement of the Indian State and Indian people. The people of India have repeatedly and regularly reposed their faith in the institutions of parliamentary democracy. In recent years, they are making their voice heard more forcefully by voting in increasing numbers in Parliamentary, State Assembly and Panchayat elections," he said.

Singh, who is the Leader of the Upper House, said Rajya Sabha is an institution whose deliberations over the years have enriched our parliamentary democracy, nurtured the strength of the nation`s federal polity and served as a bulwark against the transient impulses of the moment.

"As a House of Elders we are called upon to reflect and guide, with patience and sobriety, on the issues and challenges our nation faces. This House brings balance and sincerity to the deliberations of the day and the legislation at hand. Through thoughtful interventions enriched by experience, intellect and a spirit of national bonding, members of the Upper House have contributed to forging a national consensus on critical issues enabling us to face the challenges of the present and the future as a united nation,"the Prime Minister said.

Singh said, "Rajya Sabha has a unique position in our Republic as it it is both a Council of States and a House of Elders. "As a Council of States it provides a unique platform for every region of our vast and diverse country to have its voice heard at the highest forum of our democracy," he said recalling that many great leaders served Rajya Sabha with great distinction.

He recalled that Rajya Sabha considered and passed historic legislations institutionalising land reforms through the first constitutional amendment, abolishing privy purses and nationalising banks.

"More recently, legislations passed by this House have expanded the entitlements of our people to education, information and minimum employment. I have been a proud member of this august House for the past 21 years. I have personally witnessed and participated in some very enriching and lively debates in this august House. This House has always been a repository of wisdom that has proved invaluable to the functioning of our parliamentary democracy," the Prime Minister said.

Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley said a major challenge before the country was to improve polity and good governance. "We have challenges…we improve polity to improve governance. The power of politics. It influences the life of a nation and therefore the stature of the men who run the system should always measure up to the responsibility that the country has vested in them," he said.

"If we have to profess the body of good governance, perhaps the figure (the economic figures) which the Prime Minister repetitively speaks about would even be far higher."

He said once the norms of accountability improves, cynicism with regard to Parliament and parliamentary functioning would be brought to an end. "There is no substitute to the credibility of parliamentary institution as far as its functioning is concerned," he stressed.

He said as regional aspirations of the people are posing more challenges, "to lean greater in favour of federalism seems to be the need of the hour today".

Jaitley said social justice, education, health care, poverty, backwardness and discrimination are going to be the greater challenge in the decade to come.

Referring to the scourge of terrorism and insurgency, he said these should be fought unitedly for which parties should rise above their political interest. "We still continue to face terrorism and insurgency. Let us resolve there is no politics on these issues. They are a threat to this country…but the strength of our parliamentary democracy means that they would rebel outside the system…perhaps one day we will be able to get them within the parliamentary system," he said.

He felt the way Parliamentarians conduct in the House is going to be a role model for agencies vital to democracy. "Our conduct, our quality of debate, our ability to resolve differences and finally work in national interest is perhaps areas where people will judge us," he said.