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Rajya Sabha declares truce for farewell

Rajya Sabha chairman asks MPs to conduct themselves in more dignified manner, expresses concern over low representation of women in House

india Updated: Mar 28, 2018 23:46 IST
HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Venkaiah Naidu,Parliament,Women’s Reservation Bill
Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan lights a lamp as Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Prime Minister Narendra Modi look on, during the farewell function for Rajya Sabha members in New Delhi on Tuesday.(PTI)

Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu and deputy chairman PJ Kurien on Wednesday joined Prime Minister Narendra Modi in expressing dismay over the frequent disruptions in legislative proceedings, even as the upper house bid farewell to its outgoing members.

Opposition leader Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress took exception to their remarks, stating that it was unfair to blame the opposition for forcefully raising people’s issues in the house. “I want to tell the nation that if democracy is alive in the country, it is because of Parliament,” he asserted.

Sixty members from 17 states, including four nominated members, will retire over the next few weeks upon completion of their six-year terms. Kurien will be among those leaving the house.

While Modi refrained from making any direct reference to the washout of proceedings in the upper house, he said it was unfortunate that the retiring members had “lost an opportunity to leave their legacy” on important issues such as the triple talaq bill.

“It is not necessary that whatever happens in the green house (Lok Sabha) should happen in the red house (Rajya Sabha),” he remarked, reminding that members with vast experience in different walks of life are a “value addition” to the rich parliamentary process of the country.

Modi praised the contributions of all the retiring members and wished them well for the future. He made special mention of some retiring MPs (including former attorney general K Parasaran, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and former Indian hockey captain Dilip Tirkey) and their contributions. Kurien, he said, would be remembered for running the house smoothly even during crises, and sending serious messages with a smile. Even as the members thumped their desks, Modi said the doors of Parliament and his office will remain open for the outgoing members and he will always be receptive to their views on various issues.

Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu urged MPs to refrain from further eroding “the quality of polity” and make a fresh beginning by conducting themselves in a more dignified manner. “The country expects a lot from you,” he said.

The second leg of the budget session, which began on March 5, failed to transact any substantial business in both houses of Parliament. While the Lok Sabha cleared the Finance Bill-2018, the upper house was only able to pass the Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Bill-2017.

“During this short span of time (three sessions), I have had mixed emotions... In this session, I appealed to parties on several occasions that their leaders ensure the smooth functioning of the house. I must confess that I am deeply perturbed by the way we have been conducting ourselves,” Naidu said in an emotionally charged speech. “Whatever has happened has happened. Let us make a new beginning and see to it that we conduct ourselves in a more dignified manner and live up to the expectations of the constitution’s framers as well as the people of the country.”

The house chairman then went on to recount the supreme sacrifices made by soldiers who were posthumously honoured with the Shaurya Chakra by the President on Tuesday. Naidu also said it was a matter of concern that despite the stellar contribution made by many women members, they still constitute only 11.7% of the upper house’s total membership.

The outgoing deputy chairman also denounced the unruly manner in which members were lately conducting themselves in the house. “Walking out of the house was the biggest form of protest in the 1980s, when I first came to Parliament as an MP,” he said. “But now, people walk into the well of the house.”

Kurien urged both the government and opposition to behave more responsibly in order to raise the “standard of discussion” in Parliament.

However, Azad – who took the floor after the Prime Minister’s speech – said the opposition members were only raising issues of critical importance to the people.

“Our protests were never against the chair or any particular person. They weren’t politically motivated. It was not against our colleagues,” he asserted.

“I want to tell the nation that if democracy is alive in the country, it is because of Parliament,” he said, arguing that the opposition has the right to raise such issues in order to discharge its duties.

Agreeing with him, DMK leader Kanimozhi said MPs from parties such as hers were – at times – left with no choice but to rush to the well “in order to be heard and seek justice”.

To this, Naidu quipped: “All’s not well that ends up in the well.”

The day witnessed many instances of parliamentarians lavishing rare praise on colleagues from other parties. Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien expressed his appreciation for outgoing CPI(M) member Tapan Sen, and stated that the Left party was “a political rival, not a political enemy”.

Arun Jaitley, leader of the house in the Rajya Sabha, described the moment as a nostalgic one. “We will miss many of those who are retiring,” he said, listing out the contributions of many members such as Naresh Agarwal, Satyavrat Chaturvedi and Rajiv Shukla of the Congress and DP Tripathi of the Nationalist Congress Party. He then wished them a great life ahead.

Tripathi, in his address, claimed that women’s issues were not discussed properly in Parliament in recent years. Pointing out that about a million Indians will die of sexually transmitted diseases in the next five years, he said it was a pity that the parliament of a country that boasts of progressive texts such as the Kama Sutra could never discuss sex in a dignified manner.

Naidu also pointed out that the representation of women in the Upper House was “very low” despite the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill in 2010 and hoped all political parties would accord priority to this.

Naidu’s comments came in the backdrop of the second leg of the Budget session, which began on March 5, having failed to transact any substantial business in both the Houses of Parliament. The Upper House was only able to pass the Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Bill 2017, while the Lok Sabha has cleared the Finance Bill 2018.

Addressing around 60 retiring members of the Upper House, he said, “I have had the honour of being the Chair for the last three sessions. During this short span of time, I have had mixed emotions... In this session, on several occasions, I appealed to parties, their leaders to ensure the smooth functioning of the House. I must confess that I am deeply perturbed by the way we have been conducting ourselves.”

Naidu said while on one hand, he has witnessed very high quality of debate on several occasions, on the other, he is “filled with sadness at the disorder, indiscipline and inappropriate conduct in the House”.

“Whatever has happened, has happened. Let us make a new beginning and see to it that we conduct ourselves in a more dignified manner and live up to the expectations of the Constitution’s framers and people of the country,” he said.

Making an emotional appeal, the Chairman urged members to conduct themselves with dignity as he recounted the sacrifices of soldiers, who were posthumously honoured with the Shaurya Chakra by the President on Tuesday for sacrificing their lives for the nation.

“The adverse weather conditions and the situation in which they were stationed and the way they fought the enemy to protect the unity and integrity of the country is really... you cannot measure it by words. And I was reminded of what is happening in the House. I don’t want to say anything more than that,” he said in an emotional tone.

Stating that this reference should not become part of political tactic and the House become a theatre of politics, he said, “In democracy, there are agreements and disagreements. I agree to disagree, there is nothing wrong in it. But there is a way. I would like to see a more constructive engagement on public issues in future.”

Naidu said the Upper House is supposed to be a model for others and hence, “let us leave a legacy of ideas”.

“All parties are equal to me as the chairman. I appeal to you, let’s conduct the House in a more dignified manner and take the country forward and take the House forward,” he added.

Expressing concern over very low representation of women in the Rajya Sabha, the Chairman said: “It is a matter of concern that despite the stellar contribution made by many women members, they still constitute only 11.7 per cent of the total membership of this House.”

Six women members are retiring this year. Two of them are returning to the House and three new women members would be added. As against this, in the 2016 elections, 10 women members had retired, while three women members got elected, he said.

“It is ironical that even though the Rajya Sabha is proud that it has passed the Women’s Reservation Bill way back in 2010 seeking better representation of women, there is still very low representation of women in this House,” Naidu said.

While appreciating the valuable contribution and services rendered by women members, the Chairman said all political parties need to accord priority to provide adequate representation to women in Parliament and state assemblies.

Wishing good health to the retiring members, Naidu took the names of many stalwarts, including Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien and nominated members Rekha, Anu Agha, Sachin Tendulkar and K Parasaran, while appreciating their contribution.

“Those members who are leaving us, I would like to mention that the farewell from Rajya Sabha should be viewed as an opportunity to promote welfare of the people and not as retirement from public life. You are getting retired, not tired. Once we are in public life, in my view, there is no retirement at all,” he said.

He also mentioned that some retiring members would be remembered for raising points of order, some for their interventions and making good and valid points, while some for giving some lighter moments. “All these are part of democracy. I don’t have any ill will against anybody.”

Around 60 members from 17 states, including 4 nominated members, are retiring over the next few weeks.

First Published: Mar 28, 2018 16:36 IST