Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Parliamentary Reform

For those who followed this previous post, the Rajya Sabha has sent the Prevention of Torture Bill to a Select Committee for further examination (see Pratap Bhanu Mehta's piece in the Indian Express today on the Bill).

On a related note, I want to reproduce verbatim the speech by Mr. NK Singh, Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar, in the House yesterday because it reflects some of the concerns we have raised regarding parliamentary reform on this blog previously, including the need to provide MPs with research staff and for greater transparency in Parliamentary Committee proceedings:

I think, the one question we must ask ourselves is: What can we do to enable a Member of Parliament to perform his functions more diligently and improve the quality of his parliamentary debate? If we look at cross-country international comparison, Sir, all over the world Members of Parliament get independent research staff which can give them advice independent of this advice which they receive from the executive. Look at the US practice, look at the UK practice and look at cross-country comparisons all over the world. How do you enable a Member to more efficiently and diligently perform his functions? There are two important lacunae. One is that he has no office facility, whatsoever. If you give him a house, you must allow every Member to be able to have one independent office facility and have an independent research staff of some quality to be able to enable him to perform his functions. I think that the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs very rightly pointed out that in the ensuing debate on the MPs Salary there is a growing public cynicism on the work that Members of Parliament perform. So, I think there is a great need to improve this public perception. One of the things which we need to do is about the work done by the Members of Parliament in Parliamentary Committees, in Standing Committees, in Public Accounts Committee, in Estimates Committee. All this goes completely unnoticed in the coverage which the media does. So, I request the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs to find out some way in which the work done and diligence exercised by Members of Parliament in these Parliamentary Committees also do get reflected in improving the public perception on the work that MPs perform so that this growing cynicism about what MPs can do is dissuaded.

Readers may note that currently proceedings of a parliamentary committee are completely opaque and not available even under the Right to Information Act. Mr Somnath Chatterjee made some unsuccessful attempts to make the proceedings of Parliamentary Committees transparent during his tenure as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.

Readers may also be interested in this book by Arun Shourie, and his complaint that good work by MPs is often ignored by media and this previous post on this blog on how to judge politicians.
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