Om Birla on anti-defection law, dharnas by MPs and Parliament’s performan

By: Santosh Kumar Pathak

Om Birla has created a sort of records during his three year stint as the Speaker of the 17th Lok Sabha — of not only holding highest number of sittings, number of bills passed, work hours, but also of highest number of MPs who participated in debates.

Though Birla tried his best to allot more time to opposition MPs in House debates, some lawmakers complain that the Speaker is responsible for hasty passage of several important bills.

In an exclusive interview with IANS, Birla spoke on parliament’s proceedings, debates and uproar in the House, absence of MPs, non election of Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha and complaints of opposition.

Here are the excerpts of the interview:

Q. Three years of the 17th Lok Sabha have completed. As a Speaker of the Lok Sabha, how do you see your work?

A. Due to active participation of the members, several records have been made in regards to the proceedings of the House. In eight sessions of the 17th Lok Sabha, the House worked for 995.45 hours and productivity was 106 per cent. The current Lok Sabha has passed 149 bills.

Earlier, there was a notion that Parliament does not work but we changed that, thanks to the active cooperation of all MPs, political parties and Leader of the House Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the work done in the House has increased the trust of the public in Parliament and MPs.

Q. The figures you are giving is definitely an achievement but questions are raised on the quality of debates in the House. Many times you are seen scolding and advising MPs inside the House.

A. Efforts were made to raise the level of debates in the House. Emphasis was laid on the use of new technologies for capacity building of MPs. For this, Parliamentary Research and Information Support to Members – PRISM was established. Information is provided to MPs round the clock. Members are provided reference and legislative notice on various issues. We have made arrangements for its home delivery too. A discussion room has been constructed for MPs in the library of the Parliament.

Debates held in the Lok Sabha are being digitised for keyword search using meta data method. Through the special app, MPs have been provided access to more than 5,000 magazines and newspapers in 40 languages.

Q. Three years ago while taking charge as Speaker of the Lok Sabha you had said that you will provide more time to the new MPs and fix the accountability of the government towards the House. Till now, how successful you have been in your endeavour?

A. See, people elect an MP with high hopes and trust. They should be given chance to raise issues related to their constituencies. That’s why people who were elected for the first time were given preference over others, 208 new members raised their issues during Question Hour.

Taking a new initiative, we started seeking answers from various ministries on the issues raised during Zero Hour.

In the past three years, during Question Hour, a total of 4,648 that means on a daily average 31.4 issues were raised. Their participation in the debates increased. The government response on issues raised by MPs was earlier 40-50 per cent, which was raised to 98 per cent.

Q. But, despite all the achievements, opposition members inside and outside Parliament allege that bills are being passed in a hasty manner. Opposition members claim that they are not given time to prepare for the debate on many bills.

A. Yes, some bills were passed in haste, but their numbers are very less, that is because of the uproar. Debates and discussions were held on most of the important bills, even more time was allotted. Earlier, average time for discussion on a bill was 85 to 123 minutes, which has increased to 132 minutes.

Q. You had formed a committee on limiting the power of the Speaker on anti defection law. What is the progress?

A. The committee is of the view that there is a need for further discussion and consultation with legal experts on this subject. After consultation with experts, when the committee gives its suggestions, it will be placed in the conference of the presiding officers and if a necessity is felt to amend the anti-defection law, then we will ask the government to bring an amendment.

Q. Many a time during debate on important issues or bills, almost the entire house is seen empty. If members sign in register, then they should also attend the proceedings of the House. What are you doing for it?

A. We are constantly making efforts in that direction. We urge all political parties that they should ask their party MPs for maximum involvement in the proceedings. Gradually expected results are coming and we will continue our efforts.

Q. Even after completion of three years why Deputy Speaker could not be elected?

A. It is a process and when the time comes, it will be done.

Q. Congress MPs have complained to you about the behaviour of Delhi Police. They alleged that the police treated their MPs like terrorists and beat them up. As Lok Sabha Speaker, what action you are going to take?

A. Honourable MPs have privileges over the working of the Parliament within the Parliament. The work of a member of parliament is not disrupted and he/she can do his parliamentary business, this is privilege. Other than that law is equal for all.

Our scope is limited to Parliament and Parliamentary business, whenever an honourable MP makes a complaint to us, according to the rules, the Committee of Privileges of the House investigates the matter and sends a report to us.

Q. So are you also sending the complaint of Congress MPs to the Committee of Privileges for investigation.

A. Whatever complaints of this nature I receive, they are sent to Committee of Privileges for investigation. This committee investigates whether there has been a breach of privilege of the MP or not. Based on the inquiry, the committee sends its recommendation to us and on the basis of that we take action.

Q. Is any guideline required for how to behave with MPs and MLAs during demonstrations?

A. Holding demonstration is democratic right but they have not been given any separate private privilege regarding this. However, I will say that everyone should be respected, be it a common man or an MP, the law is equal for all.

Q. News of MPs being misbehaved, have been pouring in from across the country. In West Bengal, BJP MPs have been accusing state police of misbehaving with them. Navneet Rana has accused Maharashtra police. The Congress has accused Delhi Police which is under the Union government. Don’t you feel that there should be a permanent solution to the issue? Is there a need to impart training on how to behave with the representatives of the people?

A. The Union government has issued a circular which states that all public representatives should be respected. In the circular, officials and workers have been told that if any public representative approaches your department, they should be heard and respected.

Q. Construction work for the new Parliament building is going on in full swing. When the proceedings of the House are expected to begin in the new building?

A. The new building will be a green building where all the arrangements for environmental and energy conservation will be made. This building will be equipped with the state of the art facilities. Right now the construction work is running a week behind the schedule but it will make up in coming days. We had set a target of holding the Winter Session of Parliament in November this year in the new building and we are continuously striving hard to achieve that.

Q. What are the preparations for the upcoming Monsoon session?

A. I believe that the monsoon session of Parliament will run smoothly with everyone’s cooperation and consent.

(Santosh Kumar Pathak can be reached at [email protected])

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