MPs get unique call centre to answer their queries 24/7
The phones are buzzing at a new, unique call centre for members of Parliament, an initiative of Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, who believes this will improve the efficiency of lawmakers who have to juggle their parliamentary responsibilities with managing their constituencies.
The 24/7 call centre, named Information and Communication Centre, will assist MPs on all aspects — from administrative (finding out the status of pending travel bills) to functional (providing background research on key issues). The call centre, which started as a pilot last month, has been given a dedicated room (no 13) in the Parliament House annex and at least three officials have been deployed to man it for now, a senior official at the Lok Sabha secretariat said on Friday.
Apart from a chief coordinator and a few coordinators, the call centre also has temporary nodal officers who are part of a WhatsApp group, as explained in a letter written by joint secretary of Member Service Branch Abha Singh Yaduvanshi.
According to functionaries associated with the call centre, there has been a steady stream of enquiries. During the last two weeks of the Winter Session, for instance, they said they received queries on travel bills, appointments for “the special health check-up camp that was organised by Speaker Om Birla” and about background research papers on different subjects.
During an informal interaction last week, Birla said such research papers and other facilities are helpful for MPs who have a very tight schedule in their constituencies and get limited time to prepare for debates. “People of a constituency have very high expectations from an MP. He or she has to attend ceremonies, social events and political meetings and over and above it, the MP has to take up issues of the constituencies and national interest in the House. So, such research papers and lecture series by experts help the MPs immensely,” he said.
The call centre came up after Speaker Om Birla called for better facilities for MPs, including research assistants.
“For the above-said purpose, additional Secretaries and joint secretaries are requested to arrange to furnish the details of the queries generally received or information sought by MPs during the course of functioning of the branches/ sections under their charge,” the letter from Yaduvanshi further said.
According to the letter, the National Informatics Centre will develop the software for the information centre.
MPs are entitled to have one personal assistant. Generally, these assistants are entrusted by the MPs to manage their offices and help in parliamentary duties. While the MPs will continue to employ their assistants, the call centre is seen as a more institutional mechanism to assist the MPs.
“The assistants who are appointed to the MPs are generally political activists and outsiders. But this call centre will be operated by our own people who understand the secretariat inside-out and know which branch of the secretariat should be contacted for what purpose,” added a second senior officer of the secretariat.
The new call centre is expected to be fully functional by the end of the year. Initially, it will serve Lok Sabha MPs, but such a system might also be used for Rajya Sabha MPs in the future.
Former Lok Sabha secretary general TK Vishwanathan said, “It is an excellent idea. MPs need information on many subjects to prepare themselves for Question Hour, debates, Zero Hour or bills. Many times they don’t know where to find authentic information or background note. Such a system will definitely help them. Also, they don’t have to worry about mundane issues like travel bills.”
Trinamool Congress Lok Sabha floor leader Sudip Bandopadhyay welcomed the call-centre. “It is correct that all MPs are allowed to employ a private secretary. But they are good in clerical works and not experts in parliamentary procedure. They mostly come from the states and for the first few months many of them look directionless. Also, they don’t know the details of how Parliament works. The Lok Sabha Speaker’s plan for such assistance is a very good idea and will be helpful for MPs,” he said.