Create a Hyde Park for shouting MPs

Sh. Joginder Singh ji
(Former Director – C.B.I.)

The Lok Sabha Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, expressing his exasperation on February 19, 2009, at the Members of Parliament, as they stormed the well of Lok Sabha, yelling and shouting the choicest expletives, said: “You do not deserve one paisa of public money… I think Parliament should be adjourned sine die. Public money should not be spent on useless allowances for you… I express my greatest annoyance and condemnation”. The babble of honourable Members of Parliament had different and disparate demands: The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were criticising the government for “being anti-Dalit”. The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) wanted amendments to external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee’s statement and intervention to “stop war” in Sri Lanka, while the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) raised the Satyam issue.
After a lot of pandemonium, the Speaker finally adjourned the Lok Sabha, but not before saying: “I hope the people will give their verdict properly. You have to be taught a lesson”. It was of no avail and the next day he withdrew his remarks. The truth is that only unruly behaviour gets attention, both from the media and the government. It also spices up otherwise drab proceedings as an MP jokingly mentioned to me.
On August 24, 2006, while delivering a lecture on “Judiciary and Legislature”, Mr Chatterjee had said: “All of us in Parliament need to be concerned about it (disorderly behaviour in the House) and endeavour to restore true democratic culture into the functioning of these institutions… Once people lose faith in the system, no force, no Army can help save the system”.
On April 30, 2008, describing Zero Hour in the Lok Sabha as “torture hour”, the Speaker accused Samajwadi Party members of turning the House into a wrestling ring. “You are not serving the people by shouting. Look at your behaviour… you are threatening. I am not going to accept this. You should know how to behave in the House — kuchh padte nahin, kuchh sunte nahin (they don’t read anything nor do they listen)”.
While inaugurating the 73rd Conference of the Presiding Officers of Legislative Bodies, Mr Chatterjee had suggested doing away with the Zero Hour in Parliament since “it has turned out to be the most unruly period” of the House’s proceedings.
Every year February is a great month to make commotion and be heard in the portals of power. So we had scenes of unruly behaviours, sweeping across the legislatures all over the country — beginning with Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, followed by Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.
The excuse for this kind of waywardness does not have to be strong or based on good reasoning. Anything goes — whether it is the use of mikes, paper balls or fists, or hurling abuses and threatening — as long as it attracts attention.
The biggest advantage of this kind of behaviour is that it does not require any intellectual hardship or prodding of one’s cranium or tackling arguments with logic and better viewpoints.
It has been computed that it costs Rs 1.23 crore to run a day’s session of Parliament. As per the Lok Sabha Secretariat estimates, every minute of the session costs the exchequer Rs 23,085. In 2007, the Rajya Sabha passed 32 per cent of bills (not including financial bills) with little or no discussion. The percentage of bills passed with almost no discussion in the Rajya Sabha increased from 26 per cent in 2005 to 32 per cent in 2007. During the same period, the number of bills on which substantial debate (more than two hours) took place reduced from 29 per cent in 2005 to 24 per cent in 2007.
Out of 485 (non-minister) Lok Sabha MPs, only 107 spoke on some legislative issues in 2007. Of these, 89 MPs spoke three times or less, 12 MPs spoke about four-seven times, and six MPs spoke eight times or more in 2007. Our Lok Sabha on December 23, 2008, passed a total of eight bills, without a debate, in 17 minutes.
The vice-president of India, while addressing the 14th All-India Whips’ Conference in February last year, said, “The single most important issue of concern today is the decreasing credibility of our legislatures as effective institutions capable of delivering public good and contributing to effective formulation of laws and public policies… The instrumentalities at the disposal of the legislatures had either been blunted or become dysfunctional”.
Rulers and kings of the past, who were in positions of power by divine, hereditary right, have been replaced by the elected representatives in local bodies, state Assemblies and Parliament.
Technically, people are responsible for improving them. But in reality, beyond pleading and media reminding them of their responsibility, there is nothing anybody can do to persuade them to be concerned about the public. For this reason, the first causality is governance. The only solution is that all political parties should arrive at a consensus of not disrupting the working of the House. The legislators can wear black bands or show their resentment at a designated place outside the House, like the Hyde Park in London. An hour before the start, or at the end of the day, can be specifically earmarked for a free for all so that the time of actual working of the legislature is not curtailed. Our representatives should not mistake and confuse slogans with solutions.