Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu on Monday rejected the allegation by 15 MPs that voice of the opposition was being “smothered” in the House, saying empirical evidence goes to prove that the complaint does not stand scrutiny.
Chairman Naidu said that during the last five sessions that he presided, 10 Bills were introduced by the government out of which 8 were referred to respective Department Related Standing Committees.
“I hope that all of you would agree that such a record would not justify the allegation if it is so intended that Rajya Sabha is a party to hurried legislation,” he added.
The Chairman was responding to the letter by 15 members of Rajya Sabha raising concerns over the “hurried” passage of bills in Parliament without any scrutiny.
Seventeen Opposition parties wrote to the Rajya Sabha Chairman on Friday raising concerns over the “hurried” passage of bills in Parliament without any scrutiny and said that this was a departure from established practice. The letter was signed by leaders of 17 parties, including the Congress, Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Telugu Desam Party, Communist Party of India and the CPI(M).
Addressing the second complaint raised by the members, regarding 30 long sittings of Lok Sabha till the last week, Chairman Naidu expressed surprise as to why such reports were addressed to the Chairman of Rajya Sabha.
“I fail to understand how the complainants can describe such longer sessions and passing a good number of Bills during that period as a ‘dubious record’ since Parliament’s core functions include legislation for socio-economic transformation of the country” he added.
The Chairman said that in the current session of Rajya Sabha, so far four bills were introduced first in the Rajya Sabha. Out of which, 3 Bills were taken up for consideration and were passed, and these bills were not referred to the Standing committees as the committees were yet to be constituted.
On the issue of timing, the Chairman expressed that the timing and duration of the sessions of Parliament, was the prerogative of the Government of the day and the Presiding Officers of the Houses of Parliament have no say in it.
“Governments schedule the sessions and extend the same based on the quantum of legislative business to be transacted. Keeping in view the concerns over the declining number of sittings of Parliament over the years, it would be appropriate if Parliament can meet for longer periods than at present,” he added.
While addressing the third concern about not giving the members of Rajya Sabha adequate time under Rule 95 to propose amendments to the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill that was passed in this session, the Chairman said, “this Bill was laid on the Table of the House as passed by Lok Sabha on the 19th of this month and was listed for consideration in the House on the 22nd of this month. This gave sufficient time for the Hon’ble Members to go through the Bill”.
He said on the day of the consideration of this Bill, using his powers as the Chairman of the House, he allowed the members to submit their notices of amendments till the mid-day.
“Rules of Business of the House do permit the Chairman to accord waiver for both the government and the opposition and that is what I did. There has been no violation of any Rule in this regard. Such a waiver, however, is given very sparingly by the Chairman within the provisions of the Rules of the House,” he added.
The fourth complaint raised by the members was about the alleged smothering of the voice of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha due to the inadequacy of Short Duration Discussions in the House.
In this regard, the Chairman quoted The publication ‘Rajya Sabha Statistical Information: 1952-2013’ which has information about Short Duration Discussions taken up year-wise for 36 years between 1978 and 2013.
As per the publication for 16 of these 36 years, Rajya Sabha took up Short Duration Discussions in the range of only 1 to 5 per year. Only one such discussion was taken up in 1984.
“Since there are a minimum of three sessions of Rajya Sabha every year, going by the above data, Short Duration Discussions taken up in Rajya Sabha during those 30 years was less than 3 per session. This does not support the contention that by convention, one such discussion is taken up every week during the sessions of Rajya Sabha,” he added.
Speaking on the current session he said, “During this session, two such discussions were already taken up. One more such discussion could have been taken up by now but the House was not allowed to transact any business for two and a half days. And there is a certain scope of taking up more during the remainder of this session. This shows that there is no violation of the conventions in this regard.”
“This empirical evidence goes to prove that the complaint of smothering the voice of opposition in Rajya Sabha does not stand scrutiny,” he added.
The Chairman stressed that “it is time for collective introspection and reflection so that the House of Elders can function as envisaged by the founding fathers.”
“Proposing legislation is in the domain of the Executive and ensuring effective scrutiny of such proposals is the right and responsibility of the opposition. This should be ensured in a harmonized manner by taking each other’s concerns on board,” he added.
The Chairman further assured the house, “as Chairman of Rajya Sabha I will not allow any effort from anybody to undermine the rights and privileges of its members. I followed this dictum during the last two years as is borne out of the facts I have stated earlier and will continue to do so in future. You can be rest assured.”
Speaking on the scrutiny of Bills by parliamentary committees, the chairman said “there is perhaps a need for codification of guidelines that could make the road ahead much clear. It can’t be anybody’s case that every bill should be subjected to scrutiny by one or the other parliamentary committee. Such scrutiny may be decided upon based on the complexity of issues involved in a legislative proposal what warrant such detailed scrutiny. Leaders may reflect on this and maybe a committee can be constituted for evolving such guidelines for future reference and clarity.”