On 30 June 2021, the Presidential Commission on Supreme Court of the United States of America sat for the second time. The Commission was constituted by the U.S. President to produce a report on Supreme Court reform. The meetings of this Commission are being livestreamed and are accessible by anyone in the world. Increasingly, countries across the world are livestreaming the proceedings of their government institutions in service of transparency, public engagement and openness – values considered critical to sustaining a democratic culture.
What about India?
To some extent, the idea of livestreaming proceedings in India has had some purchase. The Supreme Court’s e-Committee has circulated draft rules for livestreaming court proceedings with some exceptions: sensitive cases and matters that involve sexual offences. The Indian Parliament’s proceedings are broadcasted live on Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha channels.
However, these plenary proceedings do not cover the entire gambit of Parliament’s legislative work – critical functions are performed in parliamentary committees. The reports of these committees, while not binding, often shape the plenary parliamentary debates and the form and content of India’s laws. The proceedings of these committees are, in most cases, behind a veil of secrecy. For instance, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology in 2018 invited public opinions and depositions from experts on data breach and privacy issues. However, there was no provision to make the submissions made by the public accessible to all and we have no idea how (or if) the Committee engaged with these submissions.
A similar state of affairs appears to exist in executive appointed bodies like the Law Commission of India and the Niti Ayog who only make their reports and in some cases minutes available. We do not get a sufficient sense of how decisions are made and the deliberations that preceded them. These bodies, like Parliament, play a key role in the governance of the country but we only have a thin understanding of what went on behind the decisions/recommendations/actions they propose or undertake.
The genesis of our constitutional republic was to a large extent transparent and open. The Constituent Assembly's deliberations that culminated in our Constitution were transcribed and published. So were most of the proceedings in the Assembly's various committees; minutes of meetings, draft proposals, reports etc. are all publicly available.
There was of course no livestreaming in 1946-1950, but we do have this technology now which can be leveraged. Livestreaming of proceedings of various legislative, judicial and executive bodies (subject to a few reasonable restrictions) can be a paradigm shift in how the people of India relate to and engage with India’s democratic institutions. It offers a space where Indians can watch their institutions in action and opens up avenues for public participation and critique which are crucial in building and sustaining a vibrant constitutional democracy.