Expressing serious concern over the menace of disruptions in Parliament and legislatures, President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday said time had now come to address the issue, which cannot simply be brushed aside, to bring a recalcitrant administration to its knees.
"In my younger days we were taught that the essence of democracy is 3D -- debate and discussion, dissent and finally decision. But when I retired from Parliament in July (after over four decades in public life), I find there was another D--disruption of proceedings of the House," he said.
Mukherjee was speaking after inaugurating The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy -- a think tank on public policies and governance-set up by 134-year-old English daily The Hindu in Chennai.
The function, in which he inaugurated the centre by unveiling a plaque was attended by a galaxy of personalities that included Congress President Sonia Gandhi, senior BJP leader L K Advani, former prime minister Deve Gowda, Communist Party of India General Secretary Prakash Karat, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, Union ministers and MPs.
The president, who had a long distinguished Parliamentary career, also spoke on the need to discuss how institutions of Parliamentary democracy can be strengthened.
Speaking on disruptions, he said, "We cannot simply brush it aside and say it may be necessary. The persons who are doing it, these are persons in Parliament who are equally responsible personalities. Is it not time to find out how to address the issue."
Mukherjee said it is said that sometimes it is necessary to bring around a recalcitrant administration for finding a resolution to issues.
However, the President said, questions arise whether disruptions puts pressure on the government or simply denies rights of members of the House.
Or whether it provides advantage to government because when question hour is disrupted, it prevents members from questioning the government on issues including policy violations, he said.
Mukherjee said that in the newly-liberated countries democracy has thrived where government supported Parliamentary institutions.
"Where it failed was in countries where government did not institutions of democracy like judiciary and free press and legislature and executive," he said, adding how these institutions can be made more effective.
Recalling the functioning of Parliament immediately after independence, he said Parliament used to have exhaustive discussions on budget and finance bill.
The size of the first budget in independent India was Rs 197 crore of which revenue was Rs 171 crore. The military expenditure was Rs 96 crore and civil was Rs 101 crore. The first plan size was Rs 2000 crore, on whose approach paper there was four days of discussion and later debate on mid-term appraisal.
Now, he said, the budget is of the size of Rs 12 lakh crores and the 12th Plan size Rs 37 lakh crore. "How do we do justice to these budgetary discussions because MPs and MLAs have the exclusive authority to authorise their spending and question their government," he said.
Mukherjee said that now government has brought in Fiscal Responsibility Budget Management act to check borrowings.
"The short point I am driving is how to strengthen Parliamentary democratic institutions. The Supreme Court has ruled that Parliamentary system is a basic structure of the Constitution which cannot be challenged," he said.
Referring to the problem of huge electorate, Mukherjee asked one issue was how to establish contact between elector and electorate so that pressure on Parliament can be limited to a few subjects.
"I don't have answers but questions are staring at us. Corruption, some sense of cynicism has arisen. How we can address it," he said.
He said India's forefathers provided democracy and it was our duty to preserve it.
Referring to the "frustration" that the country sees now, Mukherjee said it was not confined to one territorial integrity but spread all over.
He also said that the world was a global village and Indian cannot remain isolation.
The President recounted the role of media in freedom movement and lauded Hindu's pioneering role in modern Indian journalism.
Addressing the gathering former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu N Ram said the country is faced by some tough challenges in the form of corruption, mis-governance, violation of women's rights and massive deprivations.
"It has become a fashion to decry politics as a cynical game but we firmly disagree with it. We regard public policies and governance vital for the society," he said, adding that the The Hindu Centre will conduct fast-track discussions and researches in areas of public policies and governance.
Praising the performance of Justice J S Verma Committee-formed to suggest changes in anti-rape laws, he said, "It submitted its recommendations in just 30 days and it will be an inspiration for us."
Director of the Centre Malini Parthasarathy said the think tank will conduct research, seminars and workshops while re-examining fundamental constitutional principles.
"It will not be just a theoretical institution but a multi-faceted one. We also think that secularism and social justice needs to be re-examined with complete fairness and honesty while issues like cultural and competitive nationalism should be discussed," she said.
Former editor of the paper N Ravi said that the centre will perform its tasks in shaping policies over governance and challenges facing the nation.