For Rajya Sabha reforms, MPs seek more time to speak, assistants
One Rajya Sabha member wants every MP to get 10 minutes to speak. Another has suggested that MPs be provided with personal assistants who have “research capabilities”. These are just two of the many reform proposals Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu has received from members of the Upper House, which is in the midst of its 250th session.
MPs across party lines came up with the suggestions during a special debate to mark the 250th session of the Rajya Sabha on Monday, November 18, at a time when the House is already looking at possible changes in rules and procedures to improve its functioning. The suggestions are part of House records reviewed by Hindustan Times.
Many sought more time for representatives of small parties to address the House. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh wanted “members to be given more time to share insights and criticism”.
“Reasonable time should be given for members of small parties and independents,” Shiromani Akali Dal leader Naresh Gujral said. NCP leader Praful Patel and BSP’s Veer Singh requested the chairman to allot more time to smaller parties and independents to have their say. AAP floor leader Sanjay Singh was more specific. He wanted a “minimum time of five to ten minutes to be allotted for all members.” The time given for each party in a debate is proportionate to its numerical strength in the House. This system leaves limited time for smaller parties or independent and nominated MPs to intervene or speak in a debate.
As representatives of the bigger parties get to speak first, MPs from smaller ones are given a chance to address the House only towards the end of a debate. MPs from smaller parties are typically allotted three minutes to finish their speech but the Chair does allow important speakers to stretch their time limit.
Two senior MPs of the House have sought more freedom for lawmakers from party whips or directives. Praful Patel said Rajya Sabha members be allowed a “higher degree of freedom to express their conscience and independent opinion by issuing Whip very sparingly”. Senior Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader and one of Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s key advisers, Amar Patnaik, suggested: “Provisions of Anti Defection Law are restraining the freedom of expression of the Members and the norms of issuing Whip may be changed for Members of Rajya Sabha.”
India’s Upper House has had more stalwarts from diverse walks of life – from business and sports to culture-- occupy its seats than any other political institution of the country. While the Lok Sabha, primarily because its members are directly elected by the voters, have more full-time politicians as members, the Rajya Sabha is populated by an eclectic mix of minds; parties have the freedom to nominate writers, actors, economists or even poets to the House. It is possibly for this reason that Manmohan Singh suggested: “Nominated Members to be allowed more time so that the House can benefit from their special expertise.” His party colleague, Jairam Ramesh, had a different suggestion to make: nominated members should not be allowed to join the treasury benches.
Naidu made a pitch for more working days than the 60-70 days of proceedings the Rajya Sabha holds every year, a proposal that was promptly supported by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Tiruchi Siva and Gujral. Naidu also wanted “equitable and wider participation” of MPs in the debates and even suggested that parties must ensure that members with the “right background and abilities to enrich the debates are sent to the House”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his speech to the House, wanted a gap between “checking” legislation and “clogging” it to be carefully maintained. Deputy chairman Harivansh Narayan Singh suggested that “increasing the number of sittings of the House may be considered while ensuring full utilisation of the enhanced time”.
AIADMK’s A Navaneethakrishnan wanted a ban on lengthy obstructions in proceedings. Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav, the BJD’s Prasanna Acharya and many others spoke about the need for more representation for small states in the House. Many MPs also said that the House should do away with the proportional representation system and allow more seats to smaller states. Former parliamentary affairs secretary Afzal Amanullah supported the idea of more MPs from smaller states. “There is a huge discrepancy in the number of MPs from states such as UP or Maharashtra and those from Northeast states. The Upper House shall give a minimum of 3-4 seats for smaller states and if needed, reduce the number of MPs from bigger states.” He also said that unless the members agree to not disrupt proceedings, “it would not be possible to give more time for MPs to speak”.