Democracy-Procedure vs. Substance

People in India are so attuned to democracy as a part of their life and thought process that they take its manifestations in every day events for granted. Yet one cannot help being amazed when one ponders over the fact that in democratic functioning of State or public institutions, procedure is as important, if not more, than substance in the performance of any State function. In other words, no act or function can be deemed to have been accomplished unless due procedure has been followed in taking it to the stage of accomplishment. For example, in the passage of a legislation requiring enactment by an elected House of legislature, prescribed procedure must be followed meticulously at every one of the numerous stages of its passage from concept to voting to assent by the prescribed authority and notification in the state gazette for the proposed legislation to qualify as a law. Even a slight deviation at any stage of the passage may render the whole effort futile, however worthy the concept or purpose of the legislation may have been in substance or however innocuous or inadvertent the error in its processing.

2.Be you the President or the Prime Minister of the country, adherence to due procedure is required for the exercise of any power vested in you. In other words. democracy vests greater importance in the law than in the personage. And adherence to procedure seems to be a pre-requisite to adherence to law. Therefore,in practice, procedure becomes as important, if not more, than the law. And that, to me, is the amazing aspect of democracy.

3.This aspect, it appears, slows down the delivery of results in a democracy.In the first place, the passage of a law faces several procedural hurdles in the legislature and even after it has been enacted,it faces challenges in courts on grounds of interpretations, conformity to Constitution or procedure. Even in the case of an undisputed law, the empowered authorities for its implementation may face challenges on grounds of failure to adhere to prescribed procedure etc. Parties dissatisfied with or adversely affected by orders under a law manage to find grounds
for challenging it or delaying its implementation.

4. Regardless of these flaws, democracy is considered the better form of governance as the government formed in this system derives strength from a verdict of the majority of those governed and the so-called flaws are designed to ensure elimination of the scope for arbitrariness,vagueness or partisanship in governance.But even though it does happen that progress is some times quicker in authoritative forms of government as has happened in China vis-a-vis India, that does not tilt the choice against democracy in India.

5. Respect for democratically framed laws, rules made there-under or the procedures prescribed for framing and implementing laws have developed deep roots in India and the system has worked seamlessly since the adoption of the Constitution in 1952. An aberration has, however,occurred with the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Government in the Union Capital Territory of Delhi after its victory in Delhi assembly elections in 2015. Although the party fought the assembly elections with the full knowledge that Delhi is not a full-fledged State,it refused to abide by the rules framed under the appropriate laws for the functioning of the Union Territory Government claiming that it should have parity with a full-fledged State. While the established practice is that rules or laws in force must be complied with till revised by the competent authority, the AAP Govt did not comply with the existing rules and proceeded to take decisions and process laws assuming it has the authority that it seeks but really does not possess as per the laws and rules in force.Several of the decisions it took were consequently declared ab-initio void by the Central Govt.(though still not withdrawn by Delhi Govt.) and the laws passed by the Delhi assembly have failed to acquire the status of law and remain in limbo.It is an unprecedented and an unhealthy situation. The Delhi govt. has taken the matter to courts and the Central Govt. has chosen to watch the situation. The governance in Delhi has meanwhile taken a beating.

6. I do not think the situation outlined in the preceding para is inherent in a democratic set up but the Indian democracy is mature and robust enough to resolve it and keep faith. It also serves to highlight the degree of patience, maturity and faith that is called for to practice and uphold a democratic system.

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