Need a Code of Conduct for MPs, Lok Sabha Can Have Dissent But No Disruptions: Speaker Om Birla
Speaker Om Birla also shared his plans to modernise the Parliament building, improve the research wing to help MPs speak effectively and digitisation of speeches made in the House going back to the 1950s.
File photo of Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla. (Image: PTI)
Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla earned the plaudits for the productivity boost in Parliament, which in its first session after the general elections, set a new record of passing a record 36 bills in a single session, including historic ones such as Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019 and Triple Talaq.
In an exclusive conversation with CNN-News18, Birla said credit goes to the members of the House and the long working hours will continue in the next sessions as well. Stressing on the need to form a code of conduct for MPs to cut down on disruptions, he said the Parliament cannot be witness to sloganeering and tearing of papers.
He also shared his plans to modernise the Parliament building, improve the research wing to help MPs speak effectively and digitisation of speeches made in the House going back to the 1950s. Edited excerpts from the interview:
Everyone spoke of your debut in Lok Sabha during your maiden session. How did you achieve the record?
The way the House performed, a lot of credit goes to the members. It’s been possible only because of their trust and cooperation. I've always maintained nothing can be done ever without taking everyone along.
Will the long hours of work in Parliament, especially in the Lok Sabha, continue?
Yes, that will continue. I would often see whether old members or new they would sit for hours to make their point. That was really encouraging to see their active participation.
Are you happy with MP behavior? Any scope of improvement?
I got maximum cooperation from most of the MPs. No real reason to worry. They too were happy to be given multiple opportunities to speak. Everyone maintained decorum.
What’s the plan for the new Parliament building? You had spoken to the government on that?
Yes, I conveyed the sentiment of the house to the Prime Minister. In 2022, we will celebrate 75 years of our freedom. That should be the perfect occasion for us to look at modernisation of our Parliament building. We have spoken to all MPs too. We are forming various parliamentary committees and will seek suggestions from them. After we get all the suggestions the technical committee will take over and we can arrive at a decision whether we need to renovate the present structure and modernise it further or we need a new building or a new premise altogether.
What are your plans in terms of providing experts for the benefit of MPs?
We want to work on improving our research wing. Based on each Bill, we can look at getting experts on board. This is to help them understand the nuances of the legislature, especially the technicality and legality. Final decision is theirs. We don’t intend to influence any mind on the merit or demerit of the Bill. Party politics is separate. MPs are a busy lot so they need this assistance. We want to strengthen our research wing so that ready handouts can be available to anyone when they need to get any info on any bill. This will help them speak effectively.
How do you plan to digitise important events of Parliament, including speeches?
We intend to digitise all the speeches that we have. We will have audio and video files to be uploaded soon on an application. This will be a mobile app. This will be a treasure for the generation to come. The app will allow anyone to easily see what was said for example by Nehru or Vajpayee during a debate which may date back to the 50s. Getting audio recordings is not such an issue, getting video recordings will be a challenge because in those days only Doordarshan covered proceedings.
We will work on details and form a team of experts, including IT professionals, so that we can share with everyone what these legends did and said in their tenure. It would be practical to pull out points/reference by a click on the mobile to quote even during debates on contentious issues.
What further plans do you have in mind? How will you further help out MPs?
As the guardian of the house, it is my duty to safeguard their interest and grant them protection. We are making a lot of changes. For example some MPs had said they found it inconvenient to get official carrier flights and it was a hassle to pay first then claim flight fare and difference. We have taken that into consideration and soon will have private airlines counter in parliament. We are in the process of establishing a central helpline for our MPs. Anyone stuck in any part of the country can touch base and help will be rushed to them. We will also set up a call centre and facility centre.
Despite the well-run Budget Session, the larger sense was that the government didn't care for Parliament scrutiny of legislation. Opposition even alleges you came under government pressure and thus Select Committees were not formed.
That's not true. I did not rush with any bill. Scope of speaking and debate was given to all members and all parties. I acted fairly even if it was a single member party or the largest party in the house. Several bills came back to the house after scrutiny from such committees. Members needn't worry. Select Committees will be formed soon.
You were seen promoting 'Hindi' as your language preference. Any thoughts on that?
There are translation available in 22 languages. Everybody has the right to speak in their own preferred language. Hindi is a popular language across the country and our national language. That's where the argument should stand.
What is your definition of ‘New India’?
My definition of new India is a strong democracy with an intent to work for the people. As members of Parliament we can have scope for debate, discussion and even dissent. Lot of times we argue and have varied points of view but we need to establish a work code of conduct. Disruptions are a clear no. Our Parliament cannot be witness to sloganeering, tearing of papers, placards. We need to decide how we want our work culture to be.
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