As a lawmaker with experience of several terms in both houses of the parliament, Mr Baijayant Jay Panda has taken nuanced and proactive stances in relation to many pressing issues concerning institutional reforms. Here is a summary of few of his initiatives:
Automation improves efficiency in speed of voting and voter counting, apart from ensuring secrecy of ballots, so EVMs are best suited in the electoral scenario of our country to prevent prospects of electoral malpractices caused by manual voting. No technology is infallible and credible allegations of EVM tampering must be investigated very seriously.
There must be full-fledged adoption of VVPAT (Voter verified Paper Audit Trail) feature enabled EVMs in our country as it will make easier to verify the votes cast and subsequently audit them, which in turn, will strengthen accountability and transparency to voters. The proposal of Election Commission of India (ECI) to use ‘Totalizer’ machines must be complied with, as such measures shall enable aggregate voter counting from all polling booths in a constituency, without which, voters at a polling booth currently run risk of intimidation.
Income tax base should be increased for wider share in national revenues but not as per the new amendment to Section 132 of Income Tax Act. Although there has been unambiguity in judicial proceedings regarding the disclosure of ‘reason to believe’ or ‘reason to suspect’ by tax authorities, doing away entirely with this justification by a new amendment to IT Act does not pass the test of natural justice and constitutional guarantees.
Easing procedural hurdles for tax officials cannot be the sole objective, India needs to have simple, unambiguous, objective criteria to demonstrate prima facie justification for search and seizure by tax authorities. To simplify objective prerequisites for IT raids in India, tip offs from credible sources, use of data algorithms to correlate expenditure and income for identifying tax fraud and other similar measures will be befitting.
Under principles of checklist management, IT officials shall be required to give an objective checklist of items that would serve as a record of due process having been followed prior to a raid.
All sections of Indian population should have ubiquitous access to internet apart from food, clothing, housing and electricity. There shall be no form of preferential access to internet permitted by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), access to world of internet must be full and unfragmented.
To bring internet access to millions among Indian population without any form of internet access, the Universal Service Obligation (USO) funds allocated by Government of India specifically for this purpose must streamlined for providing internet connectivity in rural areas. NET Neutrality promotes level playing competition field between major and minor corporate players in telecom and e-commerce, so any form of policy bottlenecks in our country that stifle such competition must be done away with.
There ought to be immediate change in rules of parliamentary proceedings to reduce house disruptions as the single biggest reason for parliamentary disruptions is very often disagreement between government and the opposition on the agenda of discussion. Modern democracies around the world have evolved new set of parliamentary rules over time so what is listed for discussion or voting does not lead to disruptions, even for that matters, there are few days in British parliament which are dedicated to discussions by opposition.
The current system of listing matters of business at the speaker’s discretion should replace with a system where signing by 50 MPs will make a matter eligible for discussion and signing by 100 MPs will make the same eligible for a voting discussion. A day during a typical Parliament session should start with Zero Hour, Question Hour should be shifted to afternoon for both the houses, party whips should be limited to No-Confidence Motions and Money Bills. Leader of Opposition should be chosen in a Parliament by an election where only opposition MPs shall vote.
Governance in India is caught in a policy logjam of too many checks not enough balances, nowhere else in the world there are so many legislative checks against popular mandate of the electorate. The powers of the Rajya Sabha need to be reduced through reforms to block the popular mandate. Neither structuring neither major legislations as money bills to bypass Rajya Sabha is desirable nor does convening of frequent joint sessions of our Parliament solve any problems, as no constitutional amendments cannot be passed during these joint sessions.
India can choose to follow the example of British House of Lords or Italian Senate, where in the bicameral system, the Senates in both the countries cannot block a legislation indefinitely, but rather it can delay passage of legislations for some specified periods. Following the example of US Senate shall ensure there will be direct elections to Rajya Sabha by popular mandate of Indian public, instead of the current system, where elected members to Rajya Sabha represent popular mandate of party leaderships. Reforms in Rajya Sabha needs to be championed by both ruling and opposition parties alike.