Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee said on Friday that tainted members did not dominate Parliament as only 40 among the 545 MPs had “serious” criminal cases against them.
The Speaker made the remarks at a seminar organised by the Bureau of Parliamentary Studies and Training on ‘Legislature and Media: Reflections on Role and Relationship’. He agreed it was “desirable” not to have such members in the House. But in reality, he said, Parliament was dominated by MPs who did not have serious criminal charges pending against them.
However, sources in the LS secretariat said the figure would touch 140 if one also counted those accused of minor offences like violation of prohibitory orders during demonstrations and rallies.
Responding to concerns over Parliament’s fall in public esteem on account of the presence of people with criminal records, Chatterjee observed that the late Phoolan Devi, elected after serving her sentence, had contributed well to House debates on issues relating to Dalits and women.
He argued that while the primary responsibility of upholding Parliament’s prestige rested with the legislators, the media’s role was significant as an interface between the people and the elected representatives.
Chatterjee’s predecessor P.A. Sangma urged the electronic media and press to go beyond reporting what transpired on the floor. “There were 208 unstarred questions and 20 starred questions in the House today,” he remarked before proceeding to ask the predominantly journalistic gathering as to how many among them paid attention to this aspect of parliamentary work.
The Speaker agreed when Sangma made out a strong case for throwing open to the press the proceedings of subject-specific parliamentary panels that do a lot of useful work. But he said he has not been able to forge political consensus around the idea.
The Hindu Group’s N. Ram and The Tribune’s H.K. Dua felt the media must be given access to proceedings of parliamentary panels. They also felt Parliament should codify its privileges — a proposal currently under debate in Lok Sabha’s Privileges Committee.
Ram and Dua also referred to reports of the Eenadu group’s problems with the Andhra Pradesh government.