Having quit the National Advisory Council (NAC), Aruna Roy of the Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (MKSS) will intensify the movement to get minimum wages countrywide under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and a Rs 1,000 a month pension for unorganised labourers. She will also press the government to make it mandatory to have a pre-legislation process for all bills that the government proposes to introduce in Parliament. Roy is enthusiastic about the pre-legislative process.
According to the proposal that is being discussed in the NAC, the only opportunity that Indian citizens have to present their views on legislations in the making is either through the Members of Parliament (MPs) or if they are called to the Standing Committees. The discussion paper says that of the 157 Bills introduced in the 15th Lok Sabha (July 2009 till Budget 2012), 51 were not referred to the Standing Committees for consideration.
In 2009, only 16 per cent of the total Parliamentary time was spent on legislative business. Twenty-seven per cent of the total Bills passed in 2009 by Lok Sabha were discussed for less than five minutes and only five Bills passed by the Lok Sabha in 2009 were debated for more than three hours.
“There are many instances when citizens have had no opportunity to provide feedback on crucial legislation affecting their lives,” says the draft paper.
Roy says NAC Chairperson Sonia Gandhi is likely to write to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about this problem and suggest that all ministries should widely disseminate a Statement of Essential Objectives and Principles, on the basis of which they will draft legislation. This will be kept in the public domain for 45 days and proactively shared with the public. The NAC says the statement must explain as simply as possible why the legislation is necessary, its essential elements, its broad financial implications and the impact of the legislation on the environment, fundamental rights and lives and livelihood of the people. After sifting through the suggestions made by the people, the ministry must draw up the legislation (Bill) which must be kept in the public domain for another 90 days. The response of the stakeholders and ministries must go to the Cabinet along with the draft Bill. This could, then, be introduced.
This must apply to amendments to legislation as well as the actual legislation/ordinance. For instance, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act might not have been opposed so violently if the pre-legislation process was in force, says Roy.
Her support to other proposals is equally interesting. The suggestion that the government pay Rs 1,000 a month to all unorganised labourers above 60, is currently being debated in the Group of Ministers on Labour.
Roy says she quit the NAC because “I am an activist and my organisation has asked me to revert to my activist role”.
“Today, I want to be fully involved with activism because my constituency is the poor of the country and they have a lot of issues, which need total attention. And we want full accountability from the government in the few months that are left to them that they should now give us the Food Security Act. They will have to implement all the accountability legislations and many other pending decisions and we also want guarantee of minimum wages,” she adds.