President Ramnath Kovind on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament emphasized the importance of Parliament and its committees. The President pointed out that Parliament and its committees are the embodiment of the will of the people. The Winter Session of Parliament had just begun when the President reminded us of the role of democratic institutions in answering to the people. Since at this session too, the steps being taken to gradually erode democracy are being taken by the Central Government, the President's advice is for the government more than for any one else. Narendra Modi's regime, which came to power with the rallying cry of "minimum government and a maximum governance" is moving in the opposite direction. There are many examples that show how far the government has distanced itself from the President's reminder and how far the administration has strayed from its responsibility to the people. For one, the present government has a tendency to distance itself from the media. To take another example, it has the attitude that even the most basic information that the government should make public is unnecessary and insignificant.
Yet another is the lack of transparency at all levels of governance. The Public Accounts Committee and other parliamentary committees are symbols of the government's 'accountability'. But in recent years there has been a tendency to bypass even these mechanisms. Legislation to determine the fate of 140 crore people is being made with an average of 34 representatives (Lok Sabha) and 46 (Rajya Sabha) minutes. The Standing Committees of Parliament are simply onlookers. Along with this, the government's contempt and neglect of the Opposition should be highlighted. The President is surely aware of the fact that the pillars of parliamentary democracy, which he describes as great, are weakening and power is concentrated in the executive. Staying away from the media has been the hallmark of Prime Minister Modi and his administration. Examples include the abandonment of press conferences and the practice of former prime ministers to have accompanying journalists on foreign tours. Now the media is being distanced from the parliament building. Admission for journalists was suspended in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 epidemic. But now, despite the opening of malls and theatres across the country, Parliament remains under lockdown, but only for journalists. Journalists have started protesting after several complaints were rejected. Only a few English and Hindi media outlets are allowed to cover the proceedings of the current Winter Session. Reporters from other media outlets can enter the Parliament premises and the Press Gallery for a total of only two days. Which days those are will be decided by a lottery. The previous permission given to annual pass holders and senior journalists is no longer available. Things are getting to the point where it is necessary for them to know what the House of Representatives is doing only through government media.
It is a serious situation indeed, where we see a government espousing the view that the people should not know the truth and neglecting essential facts and data in policy making and governance. It does not matter how many farmers die and there are no figures regarding this; it is heard that there is no information about the Covid patients who died due to lack of oxygen and there is apparently not enough data about the terrible air pollution. Lack of adequate basic facts has been estimated to be the cause of the woes in the first 15 months of the battle to bring Covid under control. The government either ignores the facts or hides them. By restricting the Right to Information law and media freedom, the people's right to know the truth is also being undermined. Ignoring the Parliament, the Opposition and Parliamentary Committees is a clear pattern of totalitarianism that fears transparency. The President has every power to advise the Government to restore freedom to Parliament, Committees, the Opposition and the media. He should exercise it.