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Opposition should voice views but avoid sloganeering: Om Birla

The functioning of Parliament and administration of the Parliament complex – which comes under the Speaker’s ambit – has undergone several changes after Om Birla took over as Lok Sabha Speaker in 2019. The overall efficiency of the Lower House has increased, and many steps have been taken to harness technology. The House and secretariat are gradually moving towards a paperless office. Questions and answers as well as other documents are made available to members virtually, debate clips are accessible through the digital library, and a process to link state assemblies with Parliament online has begun. Birla spoke to ET’s Rakesh Mohan Chaturvedi about various issues related to how Parliament was run over the last three years. Edited excerpts:

Will the restrictions and alterations made during the Covid-19 pandemic be visible in the forthcoming monsoon session as well?

Covid-19 cases have shot up again. So, we will consult the Rajya Sabha Chairman and (medical) experts, and based on that, we will plan out the work. But both the Houses will function simultaneously and not in morning-evening shifts.

The Opposition has been aggressive in the House, leading to adjournments and suspensions. Where do you think the issues stand today?

The Opposition can present its point of view, debate and discuss – this should happen in Parliament. But I have always said the display of placards and sloganeering should not be done. You can raise objections on some issues but state your views from your seat. I will listen to your views, but it is not right to come to the Well of the House and raise slogans. The House is run with the support of the Opposition, and it has an important role. Its role should be positive though agreements-disagreements are fine.

Some members are of the view that the Chair is at times partial. Your views?

I don’t think any prominent leader has said so in the last three years. One or two members of some parties – individuals, not leaders of the party – may have some objections on a few issues. The House runs on rules and principles. Broadly speaking, nobody has made any such remark.

There is also criticism that Bills are not being sent to the Standing Committees for scrutiny and that important Bills are passed within a day.

It is not that Bills are not being sent to Standing Committees. There are many Bills that the government believes should be passed promptly so that people get swift justice or rights. Any government of any party brings Bills to give rights to people, bring transparency, and make the executive accountable. That is the only intent of any government. We hold long debates before passing the Bills.

There have been conflicts within some Standing Committees. BJP MP Nishikant Dubey wrote to you seeking impeachment of IT panel Chairperson Shashi Tharoor. There have been other cases.

Issues come up in Standing Committees and there may be agreements-disagreements between members. When we get the final report from a Standing Committee (on a Bill or any matter) it is our job to see what the majority has to say. Dissent is also registered. Broadly, a consensus emerges on issues in committees as these panels rise above political party differences. They hold good discussions.

But the letter demands permission to impeach the chairperson.

We generally don’t intervene in the functioning of the committees. They have their rights, and these committees function as per rules and regulations.

Some cases have been kept pending for five years in the ethics and privileges’ committee…

No, no, it is not like that. It is not that no action is taken for five years but there is a process in which a notice is served and then a reply is received. The process has to be followed. It is like a judicial process where the other side has to be heard too. You cannot do one-sided justice.

There is a matter before the IT Standing Committee in which Facebook whistle blower Sophie Zhang had sought your permission to depose. The rules state that a foreigner can depose only if the Speaker allows.

Yes, but there are rules and processes for calling a foreigner (to depose in front of a parliamentary committee). There is no provision in the rules for calling a foreigner to depose. If any private (foreign) person says I want to depose and keeps tweeting about it, I feel this is not proper for the parliament system. Otherwise, anybody will sit outside and say I want to depose. In a committee, MPs have a right to participate. A committee should look at the rules and processes before sending a matter for summoning somebody. Such matters are not decided on convention. One cannot say that somebody (from another country) was summoned once long back by a parliament committee. Panels function as per rules. There is provision for calling somebody from a state to depose and when such a request comes to me, I permit. But there is no provision for summoning somebody from another country.

This matter pertains to fake Facebook accounts of BJP MP Vinod Sonkar

I am not aware of the matter and what discussions took place in the committee.

Three years have passed and still the post of Deputy Speaker is vacant. Any steps being taken in this regard?

There has been some discussion. Let us see if a consensus emerges and a proposal comes to me. If it does, I will decide. Whenever such a proposal comes from the House, I will take a call.

By when will the new Parliament complex be completed?

Construction work is behind schedule by 5-6 days but there is a possibility that we will hold the 2022 winter session (which usually begins in the last week of November) of Parliament in the new building. That is our target.

The panel of presiding officers that you have formed also has A Raja (DMK) who was an accused in the 2G Spectrum scam

See, a panellist (for chairing proceedings of the House) is a member of parliament who has been elected and sent by the people. Cases are often filed against MPs, but this is not a criterion (for appointing them). We agree on whichever name a party sends to us. The convention is that the party decides the name.

Source: Economic Times