The Real Price of Legislative Obstruction

In this paper published in the February 2013 issue of the Seminar magazine, I argue that legislative obstruction in India is rule-violating, costless and insurmountable, resulting in a situation akin to the ‘legislative state of nature’. In this state, the normal constitutionally-mandated legislative decision rule of majority support is substituted by one requiring near-unanimity. This unanimity-based decision rule grants an effective veto to every political group with critical mass, and creates a strong inertia in favour of the status quo — a particularly distasteful political position in the deeply unequal Indian context. 

Frequent parliamentary obstruction has, unsurprisingly, led to legislative paralysis, and the concomitant muscularisation of the executive and the judiciary. Separation of powers is in tatters and parliamentary democracy seriously threatened. The article ends by suggesting that the practice of obstruction of legislative bodies can be checked only be increasing the political and financial costs of obstruction. These costs must be collective (i.e. not targeted at the obstructing members alone) and automatic (i.e. not dependent on their accrual on the politically weak office of the Speaker) in order to be effective.

Written by
Tarunabh Khaitan
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