The Karnataka Legislative Council was in such a hurry last Friday that it passed seven bills in 30 minutes without a discussion. The Assembly also had passed the bills without a debate. Since the session was the last before fresh elections to the Assembly, both the government and the legislators were in a mood to fast-track the business of the House. But this is wrong and amounts to abdication of their legislative responsibility by the members of the House. Among the bills that were rushed through were important legislations like those on conservation of lakes in Bengaluru and setting up of new universities in the state. At one stage, there were less than 20 members present in the House, and at another time, there were more members on the opposition benches than on the treasury benches. The opposition, if it chose to, could have defeated a bill.
The main function of the legislature is to formulate laws, and this should be done only after thorough debates and careful scrutiny of the provisions. Some legislations are about how public money should be spent, others about issues relating to the life and welfare of the people. Legislators are elected and paid for this job. Unfortunately, most members are not even aware of these responsibilities, and are indifferent and negligent towards the whole exercise of law-making. Both the government and the opposition have a cavalier attitude towards their duties. An increasing amount of the legislature's time is wasted in shouting and sloganeering, walkouts, boycotts, barracking and even fisticuffs. The number of sittings has been steadily going down and even the few sittings are not put to the best use. Even when a discussion takes place, the quality of the debate is poor. Legislators rarely study the subject they talk about, and a well-argued and well-presented speech by a member has become a rare occurrence. The standards of education and character and the level of commitment of the legislators have clearly declined over the years.
This is not special to Karnataka. A recent survey showed that 47% of the bills introduced in Parliament in the last 10 years were passed without a debate. Other state assemblies do not fare better, some may be even worse. The legislature is the highest political forum in a democracy. While it is a place for political contest, it should also serve public interest beyond politics and be the basic forum for responsive and effective governance. It should not blindly pass whatever the government of the day puts up before it, but should interrogate the government, its actions, proposals and plans. Failing to do so is to fail our democracy.