Opposition’s perception matters: LS Speaker

Speaker of the 17th Lok Sabha, Om Birla

Unlike the 16th Lok Sabha, the present Lok Sabha has witnessed fewer disruptions, at least in its first session. Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, in an interview to Sagar Kulkarni and Anand Mishra of DH, attributes this success to bridging the communication gap with the Opposition. Excerpts:

You preside over a Lok Sabha where the government has a brute majority. The Opposition is always apprehensive about their voice being stifled. How do you deal with this?

House is not run by the majority, House runs through consensus. The task assigned to me expects me to be impartial and transparent. One should not only be impartial but also appear to be impartial. When Opposition vouches for you being impartial, it matters. I have always made efforts that the Opposition – though they are less in number – get adequate opportunity and time to have their say.

The present Lok Sabha has 265 first-term members. Are you taking any special steps to guide them through the proceedings?

The new members of the Lok Sabha are all very talented. They are intelligent, they have a sense of discipline and they have presented their arguments in a logical manner. There can be disagreements and differences of opinion. These are part of democracy. But there should be no disturbance in the conduct of the proceedings. There should be no lack of communication. It has been my belief that members and the Speaker never had a communication gap. Had there been a communication gap, there could have been difficulties in running the House.

The first session after the elections has been a smooth affair, particularly tumultuous 16th Lok Sabha?

There were challenges as well as opportunities. It will be my endeavour to run the House with consensus. I got support from all members from day one. I was not a big national leader for everyone to know me. My work was limited to my home state – Rajasthan. This was my first session, it was definitely a challenge, but still, I got cooperation from all.

What were the challenges you faced in the House?

Not much. Many key legislations were passed. I made every effort to have them passed with consensus. Every member represents his party or ideology. If they had differences, they sought for the division. They expressed their differences. I have never tried to stop their freedom of expression.

The Lok Sabha also passed the J&K legislations. Was it difficult to steer those in the House?

There weren’t many difficulties. The Bill came and I asked members to debate, express their views as per your ideology. Everyone spoke. If they differed, they said so. They also expressed their opposition during the division. But, it was passed with a majority.

But the Opposition claims that bills were passed without the scrutiny of the standing committee...

This is the reason I gave more time for debate. In a Standing Committee, there are fewer members. I ensured discussion in the entire House, allowed supplementaries, clarifications. I gave them every opportunity. When we make laws for the entire country, the entire House should debate it thoroughly. I made every effort and in the coming days, we will have more debates on Bills.

The previous Lok Sabha also saw many legislations listed as ‘Money Bills’ to escape scrutiny by Rajya Sabha.

We cannot turn every Bill into a Money Bill. The House functions as per certain rules. But, if you look at it dispassionately, Lok Sabha has greater responsibility, the people have elected them.

You have also pushed for the use of Hindi in the House proceedings...

The Lok Sabha has facilities for simultaneous translations in 22 languages. Everyone has the right to speak in his or her language. If I use Hindi to transact the business of the House, there are provisions to have a translation in English. If some English-speaking person becomes Speaker, there are provisions for translation in Hindi.

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