Learning on the Job for Our Netas

The Hindustan Times, May 18, 2015

Whenever we despair at the chaos in Parliament, we would do well to recall the great orators and scintillating debates that the august forum has witnessed over the past six decades. But the overall impression is that the quality of debate has declined with time. The frequent disruptions of House proceedings and walkouts have only added to the perception that the cut and thrust of informed debate has taken a backseat. In this context, the idea proposed by Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan, to have a ‘support group’ of experts who can simplify important issues for MPs, is a welcome one. The Indore MP had recently put forward this suggestion before young MPs who she had hosted for dinner. While there are organisations, like PRS Legislative Research, which engage with lawmakers, it is clear that more such interventions, which will give MPs a better grasp on various topics, are required.

Our MPs, who come from different walks of life and are of different educational qualifications, will often not have the same level of understanding of a topic that is being discussed in the House. This limits their participation in important and complex legislation, like, for example, the debate on the GST Bill, defence procurement, retrospective taxation or child rights, etc. It can be said that our representatives have often been absent, caught napping and even disrupting House proceedings when they fail to comprehend the topic of discussion. It is on such occasions that irrelevant and irresponsible statements are made: A recent example would be JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav?s sexist comments about women from south India while the Rajya Sabha was discussing the insurance Bill.

Support groups, as suggested by the Lok Sabha speaker, will not only raise the standard of debate in Parliament but will also ensure the necessary checks and balances on the government. If MPs from the Opposition were to focus on separate topics this will help them function as a shadow Cabinet of sorts, as is seen in many Western democracies. Speakers from different state assemblies should take note of Ms Mahajan?s suggestion and take similar steps to improve the quality of debate. Taking part in informed debates on legislation and following House proceedings in a constructive manner is the duty of every people?s representative and their responsibility to the voter.

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