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Thursday, 5 April 2018

The Hindu Editorial : The Violent Aftermath

Mahendra Guru

Title: The violent aftermath

(The court must re-examine the SC/ST Act verdict, but in an atmosphere of calm) 

The loss of nine lives in violent protests against the Supreme Court ruling introducing safeguards against misuse of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, is tragic. 

Clearly, both the Centre and State governments were caught unawares by the scale and intensity of the protests. The government has sought an urgent review, in an attempt to dispel the impression that its own stand was responsible for the Division Bench laying down fresh guidelines on handling complaints under the Act. 

From the day of the court ruling, what was a matter of concern was the nature of the message the Bench might have conveyed to marginalised and oppressed sections. 

Norms to safeguard the innocent against false complaints may not have been so unpalatable as the serious implications of the finding that there is large-scale misuse of the SC/ST Act. 

Proceeding on this premise, the court ruled that the bar under Section 18 of the Act on grant of anticipatory bail was not absolute. 

It mandated a preliminary inquiry into complaints before an FIR can be registered and barred any immediate arrest of the accused, unless approved by a higher authority in the case of public servants or the Senior Superintendent of Police in respect of private citizens. 

Whether these directions amount to judicial legislation and go against the grain of prevailing law and policy, are complex questions that need careful judicial determination. 

But it is a moot question whether recent explosion of Dalit anger stems entirely from the fine print of the judgment. 

It is likely that it is a result of the perception that in a social environment where the legal and administrative system is already loaded against the community, a verdict like this may worsen the lot of the vulnerable. 

As the Bench has now agreed to hear the petition to review its own March 20 order, what is needed is a spell of calm and peace. 

In a larger sense, there are two disparate factors at play — protecting the innocent against harassment and misuse of a law, and faithfully preserving the letter and spirit of a piece of legislation aimed at upholding the rights and dignity of the historically oppressed classes. 

Final Words:- 

Given the mood of anger and discontent, it is both pragmatic and necessary for the entire question to be re-examined by the court. The first requirement for this is a conducive atmosphere for such a hearing. One hopes that the initial fury has spent itself out and that there will be no cause for its being unleashed again. 

Title: Confidence in the House 

(The Speaker has enough powers to restore order in the Lok Sabha and act upon a notice for a no-trust vote) 

Think of the day in 1997 when Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda had to face a no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha. Now imagine the following situation. Some MPs from one of the numerous parties disrupt the proceedings by storming the well of the House and showing placards. The Speaker expresses that he is unable to conduct the House and adjourns for the day. Repeat this for several days. The Prime Minister continues to hold his office. Would this be a legitimate government? 

This is not a mere academic question. About three weeks ago, several members of Lok Sabha gave written notices to the Speaker for a no-confidence motion against the current council of ministers. The rules of procedure require the Speaker to verify whether 50 Members of Parliament support the motion by asking them to stand at their seats and taking a count. Since March 16, the Speaker has every day expressed her inability to count the members supporting the motion as some members were shouting slogans and showing placards in the well of the House. 

A primary function 

The primary role of the Lower House of Parliament is to determine who forms the government. The Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers can hold office only as long as they have the confidence of the Lok Sabha. While defending the parliamentary system over a presidential system, B.R. Ambedkar had stressed that the former provided accountability on a daily basis, which was desirable for India. 

What can the Speaker do if some MPs are not allowing the House to function? The Constitution and the Rules of Procedure in Lok Sabha do not give her the discretion to decide whether to allow the motion. She is duty bound to verify whether there are 50 members in the House who support its introduction. In case of disruptive behaviour by some MPs, she has the powers — and the responsibility — to bring order to the House. 

She can ask these MPs to return to their seats, failing which they can be named and asked to withdraw from the House. If they don’t, they can be forcibly removed. There are a number of occasions when MPs have been suspended. 

Indeed, during the term of the current Lok Sabha, 25 members were suspended in August 2015 for not allowing the House to function. 

This is not the first time that such a situation has arisen. During the winter session of 2013, several members had given notice for a no-confidence motion. This was during the agitation for creating Telangana, and several members disrupted the House. For several days, the Speaker adjourned the House, and the motion was never introduced. 

However, in the midst of the ruckus, the Bill to reorganise Andhra Pradesh into two States was passed. 

A long tradition 

Till now, there have been 26 no-confidence motions. Many of these were symbolic in nature, such as the first one against Jawaharlal Nehru in 1963, three against Lal Bahadur Shastri and two against Indira Gandhi in the next three years. 

Of these 25 were unsuccessful, and one did not get to the voting stage as Morarji Desai resigned. On all these occasions, the no-confidence motion was given priority over all other business. It is this tradition that the Speaker must follow. 

The inability of Parliament to function and to test the support for the government undermines the very basis of our democratic structure. 

The Speaker has the responsibility of ensuring that the House functions and taking whatever steps are necessary — including suspension of members, if needed – to ensure order and check whether there is requisite support to admit the debate on the no-confidence motion. 

Vocabulary words: 

Aftermath (noun) = Result (परिणाम) 

Tragic (adj) = Ruinous, disastrous (दुखद) 

Dispel (verb) = Banish, eliminate (हटाना) 

lay down (phrasal verb) = Determine, allocate (निर्धारित करना) 

Unpalatable (adj) = Uninviting (कड़ा, अनाकषक) 

Premise (noun) = Promise, obligation (प्रतिज्ञा) 

Absolute (adj) = Complete, total (पूर्ण) 

Prevailing (adj) = Existing at a particular time, current (प्रचलित) 

Moot (adj) = Debatable, arguable (विवादास्पद) 

Dilute (verb) = Diminish, reduce 

Uphold (verb) = Confirm or support (कायम रखना) 

Conducive (adj) = Making a certain situation or outcome likely or possible (अनुकूल) 


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