Why the gag?

Why the gag?

In a democracy, a government can remain strong and pro-people only when the Opposition is strong and performing its duties. By the same token, a chief minister should welcome a proactive and constructive Opposition because it helps him to know the warts of his government and take corrective action. In Karnataka, a needless controversy has been created by the Yeddyurappa government by issuing an ‘order’ through the chief secretary barring officials from attending the ‘meetings’ convened by the leaders of Opposition.

The two new leaders of Opposition in the Assembly and Council, Siddaramaiah and Ugrappa are currently in the eye of a storm for holding the officials’ meetings during their tours of the districts. The government did not like the way Ugrappa took some officials to task for their omissions and commissions during one such meeting and promptly issued a circular asking the officials to keep out of these meetings. Both Siddaramaiah and Ugrappa have taken a stand that they have not held any ‘review meetings’ but they have every right to call officials to give information on the development works being undertaken by the government. The government may be perfectly justified in saying that there are ministers to conduct reviews and issue directions to officials. It will be wrong on the part of Opposition leaders to review policy matters, but they should not be prevented from gathering information. After all, when even a common man can seek details through the Right to Information Act, why can’t the leaders of Opposition ask the officials to present the facts and figures regarding developments works before them?
As Siddaramaiah has pointed out, the leaders of Opposition are recognised as such by the Speaker of the Assembly and the Chairman of the Council and they have constitutional responsibilities. Kaul and Shakdar, well-known constitutional experts, in their treatise on healthy democratic norms, have pointed out that a prime minister or a chief minister should consult the leader of Opposition before taking a new policy initiative. Unfortunately, such parliamentary niceties are being given a go-by and we have a situation where the government even frowns on the officials sharing information with the Opposition leaders. The Yeddyurappa government would do well to withdraw the gag order and instead come out with clear cut instructions on the interaction between the officials and the Opposition leaders. That would set a healthy precedent for future governments as well.

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