Naidu dismisses 'voice of oppn smothered' allegations

During the Zero Hour, Naidu said 15 members of Rajya Sabha belonging to 14 parties addressed him a letter dated July 25, 2019 conveying what they called their anguish and concern over passing of Bills without scrutiny by either Parliamentary Standing or Select Committees.

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 on to prove that the complaint does not stand scrutiny.

During the Zero Hour, Naidu said 15 members of Rajya Sabha belonging to 14 parties addressed him a letter dated July 25, 2019 conveying what they called their anguish and concern over passing of Bills without scrutiny by either Parliamentary Standing or Select Committees.

Noting that the contents of the letter have been widely reported in the media, he said, "This has cast a cloud over the functioning of our apex legislature which is not good for our parliamentary democracy".

He said the 15 members have quoted some statistics about the number of bills referred and not referred to scrutiny either by parliamentary committees during the 14th, 15th, 16th and the present Lok Sabha.

"If their complaint is that Bills first introduced in these Lok Sabha sessions were not referred to parliamentary committees for scrutiny, that is not certainly in my domain as the Chairman of Rajya Sabha. So, I am not in a position to respond to this complaint and I feel that this complaint, if any, has been addressed to the wrong person," Naidu said.

Naidu further said "since a broad message" has gone about hurried legislation by Parliament, of which Rajya Sabha is a constituent, as its Chairman, he would like to clarify the factual position regarding scrutiny of Bills introduced in the Upper House.

During the last five sessions that he has presided (244th to 248th sessions), Naidu said 10 Bills have been first introduced by the Government in Rajya Sabha.

"I am happy to inform you that as Chairman of this august House, I have referred 8 of those 10 Bills to respective Department Related Standing Committees, though it is not mandatory to do so," he said.

The other two Bills that were not so referred related to inclusion of some more groups in the category of Scheduled tribes as they did not warrant a detailed scrutiny by standing committee.

Further, one more Bill -- The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill -- as received from Lok Sabha after detailed scrutiny by the Standing Committee concerned and passage by the other House was again referred to the Select Committee of Rajya Sabha.

"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," Naidu said.

During the current session (249th), four bills have so far been introduced first in the Rajya Sabha. Of these, three Bills have been taken up for consideration and passed.

These Bills could not be referred to Standing Committees because they are still to be constituted, Naidu said.

"...it is for the House to decide if a Bill is to be referred to the Select Committee and not me as the Chairman of the House," he added.

The fourth Bill -- the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill -- first introduced in Rajya Sabha is still to be taken for consideration and passing.

The Chairman also said seven more Bills to be taken up in Rajya Sabha for consideration as received from the Lok Sabha also have been already scrutinised by standing committees

"The fourth and important complaint is about the alleged smothering of the voice of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha. In support of this allegation, the Honble Members have raised in their letter the inadequacy of Short Duration Discussions in the House," he said.

In support of this complaint, Naidu added the Members have referred to what they called the long standing convention of having one such Short Duration Discussion each week.

To this, Naidu said since there are a minimum of three sessions of Rajya Sabha every year, going by the data, Short Duration Discussions taken up in House during 30 years (1952- 2013) 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 said.

"During this session, two such discussions have already been 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," he said.

And there is a certain scope of taking up more during the remainder of this session, Naidu added.

"This shows that there is no violation of conventions in this regard.

"This empirical evidence goes to prove that the complaint of smothering the voice of opposition in Rajya Sabah also does not stand scrutiny," the Chairman said.

In the context of issues raised by 15 members of Rajya Sabha, Naidu said it is time for a collective introspection and reflection so that the House of Elders can function as envisaged by the founding fathers.

Regarding the timing and duration of the sessions of Parliament, it is the prerogative of the Government of the day and the Presiding Officers of Houses of Parliament have no say in it, he said.

Proposing legislations is in the domain of the executive and ensuring effective scrutiny of such proposals is the right and responsibility of the opposition and this should be ensured in a harmonised manner by taking each others concerns on board.

"I can assure you all that as Chairman of Rajya Sabha I will not allow any effort from anybody to undermine the rights and privileges of its members," he said.

With regard to scrutiny of Bills by parliamentary committees, there is perhaps a need for codification of guidelines that could make the road ahead much clear, he added. 

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