Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
Strengthening the position of Speaker
The position of Speaker has been brought into question at various instances in recent times. G.S. Dhillon, Speaker of the Lok Sabha (for two terms), was asked to step down by the Prime Minister in 1975, and made Union Minister for Shipping — a precedent that has allowed future holders of the position to harbour political ambitions.
There have been numerous such instances in our polity where the Speaker of the Assembly has precipitated a political crisis by seemingly political decisions. For example, the Anti-Defection Law. The determination of whether a representative has become subject to disqualification, post their defection, is made by the presiding officer of the House, offering ample scope for Speakers to exercise discretion. Sixteen MLAs in the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly (out of a total of 41 of the ruling party) were disqualified by the Speaker, Nabam Rebia, in 2016 despite not officially leaving the party or defying its directives. Similarly, the Uttarakhand Assembly Speaker, Govind Singh Kunjwal, disqualified nine MLAs from the ruling party in 2016, despite the MLAs not leaving the Congress or voting against it in the Assembly.
The position of the Indian Speaker is paradoxical. The holder of the position, whether in Parliament or in State Assemblies, contests the election for the post on a party ticket, and yet is expected to conduct himself or herself in a non-partisan manner, all the while being beholden to the party for a ticket for the next election. The need for reelection skews incentives for the Speaker.
The absoluteness of the Speaker’s decisions can also be an incentive for potential abuse. Instances of suspension of almost all the MLAs of the Tamil Nadu Assembly in 2016, where members of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam were evicted en masse from the House while protesting, raise crucial questions about the health of our democracy. Such suspensions are increasingly becoming common across State Assemblies, with a partisan Speaker taking such decisions.
Comparison with other constitutions:
In Ireland, a parliamentary system close to ours, the position of Speaker is given to someone who has built up credibility by relinquishing his or her political ambitions.
The Westminster system considers it a taboo to induct a Speaker into the cabinet.
The British Parliament automatically elevates the Speaker to the House of Lords.
Establishing conventions: Taking partisanship out of the post will require establishing other conventions. Until 1996, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha always belonged to the ruling party. The election of P.A. Sangma of the Congress, on a unanimous basis, set another convention – with the Speaker belonging to a party other than the ruling party.
Promoting neutrality: As a democracy, we must condition ourselves to expecting and promoting neutrality in the Speaker. Instances where the Speaker is named on a list of MPs who withdraw support from the government (as was the case with Somnath Chatterjee in mid-2008; he subsequently defied his party) must be avoided, to prevent encroachment on the Speaker’s neutrality. Such neutrality should not be accompanied by political banishment. The CPI(M)’s expulsion of Somnath Chatterjee in July 2008, after the United Progressive Alliance government survived a no-confidence motion, for violation of party discipline, is a sad example of this.
There is a need for greater clarity in the interpretations associated with the Anti-Defection Law. It might be better for such critical decisions, associated with representative disqualification, to be determined by the President instead, with inputs from the Election Commission.
The Page Committee, headed by V.S. Page, suggested that if the Speaker had conducted himself or herself in an impartial and efficient manner during the tenure of his or her office, he or she should be allowed to continue in the next Parliament. This would help maintain neutrality of Speaker as no political decisions, keeping in mind the need for re-election, would then be taken.
The Indian Constitution is supreme. The political party constitution should not be allowed to superseded. Maintaining neutrality of Speaker is essential for our democratic polity to function smoothly.
Connecting the dots:
There are numerous such instances in our polity where the position of Speaker has come into question. Discuss some of these instances. Also suggest remedial steps.
TOPIC: General Studies 2:
Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health
Development processes and the development industry the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders
Important International institutions, agencies and fora their structure, mandate.
Achieving Immunisation Goals
Today, as India makes strides in sustained living for its citizens, health is rightly placed at the centre of the conversation, as a crucial determinant of the power of its growing economy. For a country that has such a massive and diverse population, the progress made in the last 70 years is remarkable. However, the promotion of health to international standards is still an unmet goal for the country.
The GVAP (Global Vaccine Action Plan):
Launched in 2012, it has been a formidable step towards providing equitable access to vaccines for people living in low-income countries. Under GVAP, 194 countries came together to commit better healthcare for the world and with a promise for a disease-free future. India too stepped forward, making considerable efforts in enhancing its public health framework. India introduced its flagship immunisation programme — Mission Indradhanush — in 2014, calling into action India’s urgent need to improve the 65 per cent immunisation rate achieved in its Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP) since 1985. Further, new vaccines were added to the UIP in realising India’s obligations to GVAP 2020.
Globally, the GVAP commitment has fallen behind in several ways. In 2017, WHO estimated that worldwide, 20 million infants still do not receive the most basic vaccines. Essential immunisation coverage rates in low-income countries have increased by a paltry 1 per cent since 2010. A whopping 68 countries, including India, fall well short of the 90 per cent basic immunisation target coverage. According to the 2016 midterm review of GVAP, India continues to have the highest number of unvaccinated children worldwide. This has hampered the overall progress of GVAP.
Steps taken by the government:
In response to the crisis, the Government identified 201 high-focus districts across 28 States that have the highest number of partially-immunised and unimmunised children and channelled resources to address the gap.
In addition, India recently launched one of the world’s largest vaccination campaigns against measles, a major childhood disease, and congenital rubella, which is responsible for irreversible birth defects. The campaign will vaccinate more than 35 million children in the age group of 9 months to 15 years with the MR (measles and rubella) vaccine.
Simultaneously, India continues to strengthen surveillance for measles and rubella, an important learning from the country’s polio eradication programme that helped identify appropriate strategies to eradicate the disease.
Ensuring stakeholders participation:
Sustainable exploitation of resources and timely execution of strategies are of primary importance, and this can only be achieved through participation from multiple stakeholders across the community.
Building awareness about the value of vaccines: A crucial step towards delivering ‘Health for All’ is building trust in vaccines and in the healthcare system. Keeping in mind the epidemiologic situation in India, and the myriad cultural, religious and political settings, communicating the benefits of vaccines is vital. Community-based information provided by trusted sources can help address issues confronting vaccine hesitancy at large. Communities need to appreciate immunisation as their fundamental healthcare right, and not as government propaganda thrust upon them.
Use of technologies to optimise delivery of existing vaccines: Low and middle-income countries (LMICs) like India face the challenges of inefficiencies in vaccine management and delivery, mostly in the use of antiquated logistics and temperature monitoring systems prevalent in vaccine delivery. It is imperative that all the available technologies for vaccine delivery are optimally used to improve efficiency. In this regard, it is very encouraging to see the use of eVIN technology (electronic vaccine intelligence network) as an example of India leading the world in indigenously developed technology that digitises vaccine stocks and monitors the temperature of the cold chain through smartphone applications.
Investing in R&D for new vaccine development: New technologies aimed at lowering the dose of vaccine or reducing the required number of doses, reducing wastage and enhancing vaccine to stimulate the best immune response particularly in small children are needed. India must continue to invest in the development of new vaccines as well as adopt strategies to increase the efficiency of delivering existing vaccines.
Increasing domestic investment in immunisation services — According to the World Bank, one of the most crucial elements in building equitable and sustainable immunisation coverage is intensification of domestic financing. To meet the goals of India’s UIP, improved financing will be essential not only to meet current targets but also to lower long-term healthcare costs. Such financial investments are sound healthcare strategies to ensure the overall human development. As an example, a recent report from the US suggests the introduction of rotavirus vaccines reduced the number of acute gastroenteritis-related hospitalisations by 3,82,000 from 2008 to 2013, saving $1.23 billion in medicals costs. This is a significant impact to the health and the economy of any country, where the return on investment is paid in the form of dividend over decades through a healthy and productive population.
Healthcare authorities should be encouraged to plan immunisation budgets while closely monitoring disbursements and immunisation programme activities, both at the national as well as the local level.
Officials at the national and subnational level responsible for implementation of the immunisation plans, should be empowered and held accountable for programme monitoring and performance.
Civil society organisations that can effectively advocate for greater commitment to vaccines and immunisations should be engaged proactively, and leveraged for increased effectiveness of delivery systems.
Immunisation programmes must have robust training, management and knowledge-sharing structures for programme implementation to be effective.
The future of healthcare lies in collaboration, innovative solutions and intelligent delivery designs. With a keen focus on the immunisation drive, the governemnt needs to make a remarkable progress in building a stronger healthcare environment across the country. And this will most certainly pave the way for a stronger and healthier India.
Connecting the dots:
While India has made great strides in ensuring large scale immunisation of its citizens, we are still away from the target of 100% immunisation. In this light analyze how encouraging stakeholder participation and ensuring accountability would help us achieve the target.
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