Speaker of the 17th Lok Sabha , Om Birla , has instantly become popular among the masses in the very first session of Parliament because of the manner in which he presided over the proceedings of the Lower House.
Inside the Lok Sabha, Om Birla has endeared himself to the MPs of the opposition parties besides those of the treasury benches. All of them cooperated with him when the Lok Sabha met even till midnight on a number of occasions in the recently-concluded budget session .
As a BJP MP from Kota in Rajasthan, Om Birla is popular for feeding the hungry throughout the year and distributing blankets to the poor during the winters every year. These facts were mentioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the welcome address after Birla's installation on the coveted chair on June 19. And now because of the style of his functioning in the Lok Sabha, Birla is fast becoming a people's Speaker.
Excerpts from an exclusive interview:
Q: Earlier, the Lok Sabha would be adjourned, even for the whole day, on several occasions due to ruckus. But you did not adjourn the House during pandemonium. Why?
A: Yes, the budget session of the Lok Sabha functioned without any hindrance. This has sent a positive message across the country. The people of India wanted that in the temple of democracy , the Lower House's proceedings should go on for the maximum duration possible without hindrance and maximum work should be accomplished.
Q: You were an MP in the 16th Lok Sabha. But you would never have seen the Lower House run so smoothly. How did you bring about the change?
A: Lok Sabha runs with the consent and confidence of all MPs. I felt that the opposition members moved adjournment motions on several occasions but they wanted to express themselves. I spoke with all MPs. I tried to win their confidence in a gentle and casual manner. I did not face difficulty in this.
My predecessors had also tried their best. It is because of their efforts that the Lok Sabha has its own dignity and there is a conducive atmosphere in the House.
Q: Earlier, the Lok Sabha used to adjourn for a whole day because of the death of a sitting MP. But you adjourned the Lok Sabha for only half a day after the death of sitting MP from Samastipur Ram Chandra Paswan who was a brother of Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan. Have you set a precedent?
A: All members were sad after the death of a sitting MP. But several MPs wanted the House to function. An opinion was created that crores are spent every hour for Parliament to function. Therefore, House should function and conduct business as usual.
Q: So, have you set a precedent that the Lok Sabha will not be adjourned for a full day either due to ruckus or death of sitting MP, including any minister, for the next five years?
A: Certainly. We will not discriminate between members. Whether it is the death of a sitting MP or pandemonium, the House will not be adjourned. Even if the deceased may be a minister, the House still will not be adjourned. The house will be adjourned maximum for half a day.
Q: Will you not adjourn the Lok Sabha even during pandemonium?
A: I will earn the confidence of MPs even more. All honourable members want their speaker to be unbiased and non-controversial.
The day I was given the responsibility of the Speaker of Lok Sabha, a mandate was given to me that I would be the protector of all MPs, I would rise above party politics and I would try to run the House with consensus.
I tried to do exactly that. You will have to give the opposition their rights. In a strong democracy, the opposition should also be strong. If you have to run the House smoothly, the opposition members should also be able to express themselves strongly and it is expected that the government should accept their good suggestions.
Q: You have tweaked the procedures of the Lok Sabha. Now you allow members to ask questions and seek clarifications from the minister after the latter has given the reply to some debate. Is it to empower the members?
A: This is the right of the members. When you do not have standing committees, there has to be maximum debates and discussions by as many members as possible. Therefore, I gave ample time for debate on bills which are not going to the standing committee. These bills become law for 130 crore people of the country and, therefore, maximum debate and discussion on them is justified.
Q: Another change which you have brought about is conducting the House in Hindi. For example, earlier the speakers used to announce "those who are in favour of the bill say aaye and those who are against it say no" during the passage of bills. But you say "j o haan ke paksh mein hain wo haan kahein aur jo virodh mein hain wo naa kahein". The "aayes" and "noes" have been replaced by " haan ke paksh mein" and " naa ke paksh mein".
A: A speaker's instructions get translated into the 22 languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. A speaker giving instruction in English will naturally say "aayes" and "noes". I have not implemented Hindi as a medium of instruction in Hindi.
Q: The Lok Sabha's performance and productivity has considerably improved because of your efforts. But for the first time after several decades, the performance of the Rajya Sabha also witnessed noticeable improvement. Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu was the Rajya Sabha's chairman also during the last two years of the 16th Lok Sabha. But the performance of the Upper House was worse than the Lower House. However, the Rajya Sabha's productivity has improved considerably during the budget session. Don't you feel the exceptional performance of the Lok Sabha had a cascading effect on the Rajya Sabha?
A: No, Rajya Sabha has its own rules and procedures. I do not say the performance of the Lok Sabha had a positive impact on the House of Elders. I don't think so.
Q: Most of the Lok Sabha members cutting across party lines wanted a more severe punishment to Samajwadi Party MP Azam Khan for passing misogynist and sexist comments against woman MP Rama Devi who was presiding over the house in your absence. But you let him off with just an apology.
A: Members cannot decide the quantum of punishment. I have to decide what was proper in the Lok Sabha.
Q: There is an issue about expungement. For instance, what Azam Khan said may have been expunged from the proceedings of the Lok Sabha but its video clip went viral on the social media . Isn't expungement irrelevant in this age?
A: Allegations and counter-allegations are bound to take place in the house. But the MPs should try not to level allegations without facts and proofs. This will give a positive message. Even if we expunge the objectionable portions, it does not send a positive message because the proceedings are telecast live.
Q: When will the standing committees be formed?
A: Parliament affairs minister (Prahlad Joshi) will discuss with all the parties. The committees will be constituted after the proposals come. The standing committees will certainly be constituted before the winter session of Parliament.