In the past two years, Lok Sabha saw record levels of productivity, spirited debates and its fair share of controversies. Speaker Om Birla speaks on issues such as House disruptions, the new Parliament building and the debate on virtual House panel meetings in a conversation with Akhilesh Singh. Excerpts:
On June 19, you will complete two years as Lok Sabha Speaker, how has your experience been?
It has been good. The Prime Minister, politicians from all parties and all members of the house have served well. It is because of this that we have been able to maintain the people’s belief in democracy and in democratic institutions. For the past two years, I have tried to ensure that maximum members get time to speak in the House. As many as 107 bills were passed in two years with record participation in debates. We have also digitised questions, now 90% questions come digitally, earlier it used to be 40%. Besides, productivity was also high. During corona also, it was 167%. It is my effort to conduct the House with consensus.
You have given chances to newcomers and women to raise issues. What has your experience been with these experiments?
The first session functioned for 27 days in which 35 bills were passed with 122% productivity. It has been my effort that more and more people get opportunities. In one day, 161 people spoke during zero hour. I think it is a record.
In the last session, there was demand for a special debate on Covid-19. Do you think there will be a dedicated debate on Covid-19 in the coming session?
In the last session, Covid-19 was discussed. The Business Advisory Committee decides which issues will be taken up. All party members are there. They decide which issues are to be discussed.
When you took over in 2019, initial sessions took place smoothly but in the last two sessions, we saw that the opposition got a little aggressive. Since assembly polls are around the corner, are you expecting another stormy session?
It is my sincere effort that the House runs smoothly. But some political parties resolve to not let the House run on a certain day. This kind of tendency and a pre-meditated mindset is not good for a democratic institution. Any issue can be discussed as there is a process but to not let the House run is undesirable. Certain people say earlier, entire sessions used to be washed out. I say let’s set a good example.
In the last session, some senior leaders complained that they were not being given enough time to speak.
If any issue is raised according to the rules, then everyone gets enough time. What they say outside is not my business but if they complain to me, then I shall give them time.
Can we expect the monsoon session on time and what will be the agenda of the session?
Let’s hope that the session takes place as per schedule. The government agenda is fixed by the Centre, which bills are to be tabled. Whatever the government tells us, we hold a debate on that. If there is no consensus, then we hold a vote.
You have been active on digital platforms for a long time. What is your opinion on the ongoing Twitter controversy?
Twitter and other social media have been summoned to our parliamentary committees too. The law of a sovereign nation is universally applicable to all who live and work there. However, as far as the issue between Twitter and the government goes, I think government representatives have spoken enough about it.
Lok Janshakti Party leader Chirag Paswan has requested you not to identify the five MPs as a new group and not give them recognition. What will be your next step?
Out of six party MPs, five came to me and said Pashupati Kumar Paras is their leader. We matched their signatures. We keep the records updated and we simply change the information, that a certain leader will be seen as their representative in the House. Parliamentary boards are different, the party is different. They can hold another meeting, have another majority, and we will change the information again. BSP has changed its leaders several times.
For a long time, requests were being made for virtual meetings of standing committees as members didn’t want to attend physically. But indecision persists.
There are two issues. There is Rule 362 according to which the minutes of the committee’s meetings will be confidential and won’t be discussed in public, unless completely necessary. Until 362 is changed, virtual meetings cannot happen.
The new Parliament’s construction is projected to be completed by 2022. Is the construction on track?
They have given October 2022 as the deadline and I believe the work will get over by then. All agencies are at work and they are working brilliantly. They fell behind by 16 days but then recovered that lag.