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Wanted, action against delinquent MPs

Wanted, action against delinquent MPs

Author: M.V. Kamath
Publication: Organiser
Date: September 15, 2002

Introduction: According to a senior MP, Somnath Chatterji rowdyism is "the only way to put pressure on the Government"-a remarkable statement to make for one who recently was voted as "Best Parliamentarian". The only way?

Isn't there any way our delinquent Members of Parliament can be taught a lesson of their lives on good behaviour? Times was, until, say, the 1980s, when Parliament worked. When MPs showed a deep sense of responsibility. When Bills were introduced, discussed and passed with due ceremony and decorum. Those days, it would seem, have receded into history. Increasingly, over the last two decades, Members of Parliament have been behaving like street rowdies, frequently resorting to ugly behaviour like storming into the well of the House, shouting slogans and disturbing proceedings, thus forcing the Speaker to adjourn the sessions. The last session of Parliament has been no exception, being forced to end without any substantial legislative work being done. The NPA Ordinance could not be introduced. Nor could the Bio-Diversity Bill, the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Bill, the Companies (Amendment and Second Amendment) Bill, the Bill to repeal the Sick Industrial Companies Act, the Convergence Bill, the Airports Authority of India (Amendment) Bill and some others introduced as early as 2000 and 2001 be passed-all because of plain rowdyism of the MPs. According to a senior MP, Somnath Chatterji, this seems to be "the only way to put pressure on the Government"-a remarkable statement to make for one who recently was voted as "Best Parliamentarian". The only way? Isn't there a civilised way of making a point without having to break furniture and throw microphones at each other? During the Rajiv Gandhi Government (1984-89) as many as 46.10 hours were lost over the Bofors issue-and nothing was gained. During the 10th Lok Sabha when P.V. Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister, 151.48 hours in the Lok Sabha and 131.32 hours in the Rajya Sabha were lost over the Ayodhya issue, the Harshad Mehta Scam, the Sukhram and Telecom Licensing Scam and the Gian Prakash Committee Report on Sugar. Since 1998 the Lok Sabha has lost 195.23 hours and the Rajya Sabha has lost 134.95 hours. By another count, in the five years (12th and 13th Lok Sabha) the time lost was 233.08 hours while the Rajya Sabha lost 176.03 hours or in all 409.11 hours. What do these figures mean? Calculations made from budget figures of the two Houses of Parliament show that every minute of Parliament functioning costs the nation Rs. 17,000. That comes to about Rs. 10 lakh an hour or Rs. 75 lakh a day. Shouldn't the nation hold our MPs responsible for the crores of rupees lost to the Exchequer by their irresponsible behaviour? It is not that our MPs are giving their services free to the country and to the people who elected them. They get umpteen privileges. The list is long and include salaries, daily allowance, constituency development allowance, office expense allowance, allowance for meeting expenditure on postage and stationery, travelling allowance for attending parliamentary sessions and meetings of various committees, housing facilities, income tax relief, foreign exchange quota, diplomatic passports, offices accommodation, entitlement of undertaking any journeys within the country and for travels abroad. MPs get pensions for life. Ex-MPs are entitled to receive railway passes on a life-time basis for free travel in Class I or AC Sleeper Class anywhere in India and any number of times, along with an attendant in Class II. Each Member of Parliament is entitled to get three telephones installed, one at his office, one at home and one in his constituency. He is allowed 50,000 telephone calls free. In addition he gets a Constituency Development Fund of Rs two crore every year; for the first one crore of rupees he is not accountable. He has to submit receipts only on how the second crore of rupees is spent. Few Parliamentarians abroad are so richly pampered as are ours. In the circumstances, why should we have to put up with their rotten behaviour? True, in 1989, some 63 MPs were suspended in a single day because of uninterrupted disruption. But the answer to rowdyism is not mere suspension. The Speaker must take such stern action against the offenders as to hurt them financially. Even more importantly, the entire Parliament must be held responsible for the behaviour even of a handful. No Member of Parliament should be paid if the House has been forced to be adjourned. Not only that, all parties should be forced to pay for the time lost, according to their strength. That could compel parties to behave and to force their Members to behave. Additionally, Parliamentarians must be told that they will automatically forfeit all allowances they are entitled to-and the stress must be on all allowances. It seems that it is only in India that bad behaviour is frequently seen in Parliament. I have covered Parliaments in many countries but nowhere have I seen the kind of behaviour that has been witnessed in India both in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. At this point may a suggestion be respectfully made to the Speaker of House? Permission should be given for full television coverage of all Parliamentary proceedings. After all, if Parliamentary coverage is permitted for the print media, why shouldn't the same privilege also be extended to the television media? In fact it is important that the television media should be especially empowered to cover Parliament so that the unruly behaviour of MPs is visually-and therefore, more effectively-conveyed to the public at large. Every constituent must come to realise the rowdy behaviour of the MP he or she has chosen. This, of course, presumes that an MP has a sense of self-respect and decency. Sadly, that does not show. In this respect, the media, too, has a responsibility. This was pointed out by Omkar Goswami, the Chief Economist of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) writing in Business World (September 2). He says: "We need other methods of shaming our irresponsible worthies. For one, all editors of leading national dailies should begin a sustained media campaign regarding attendance, misbehaviour, obstructionism, charging into the well of the House, and the like. For every day that the Parliament is in session, let all such dailies print names of those MPs who did not attend, of those who consistently disrupted proceedings and those whom the Speaker or Chairman had to repeatedly chastise for rank misbehaviour..." There is an urgent need to discipline our wayward MPs, not only to restore order in Parliament but uphold national honour and just as importantly, get work done. Meanwhile, may one ask for a full report on the manner in which our MPs have spent their Constituency Allowances in the last three years, beginning with 1999? And how many phone calls each MP made from his three phones? There is need to keep a stern eye on our MPs and they should know that they are under constant observation. All perks and privileges should be used responsibly and not waywardly. India is not for looting. It is a point that MPs must be taught to remember.

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