Mild mannered Speaker not averse to strong action

Sumitra Mahajan may be described as soft spoken and mild mannered and fondly called `tai` (elder sister), but the new Lok Sabha Speaker is not averse to taking "strong" action against erring members to maintain decorum in the House.

New Delhi: Sumitra Mahajan may be described as soft spoken and mild mannered and fondly called `tai` (elder sister), but the new Lok Sabha Speaker is not averse to taking "strong" action against erring members to maintain decorum in the House.

Elected unanimously last week as the second woman Speaker after Meira Kumar, 71-year-old Mahajan says that she is for striking a natural dialogue with members but would not be found wanting in taking "strong" decisions in the interest of the House.

"Whenever it is necessary to give strong decisions, one has to," the eight-time MP told PTI in an interview.

She was replying to a question about how she would conduct the House because it has been repeatedly proved that even a small group of MPs can hold the house to ransom by protesting in the Well of the House.
Mahajan`s attention was drawn to the fact that the previous Lok Sabha got the tag of being the least productive because of record disruptions and indecorous behaviour including the pepper spray incident.

Her emphasis is on "sahaj sulabh sanvad" (natural dialogue) with members and "coordination" among the treasury benches, opposition including the smaller groups to run Parliament smoothly.
She says that the responsibility of the lawmakers and Parliament was needed all the more at a time when democracy in the country is growing from strength to strength as reflected in the voting pattern. "It is our responsibility to fulfill the rising expectations of people."

Asked whether she would frame rules to check troublesome behaviour of MPs, Mahajan said "actually rules can be framed if necessary" but she would do it only after consultations with leaders and persuade members about their responsibilities.

To a query about the last Lok Sabha being called the most disrupted, she said, "I don`t want to comment anything about the past. I have been elected Speaker to a new Lok Sabha."

Mahajan is against opening the proceedings of the Parliamentary standing committees to the media, suggesting that it would hamper consensus building on issues.

"It is not necessary as free, frank and detailed discussions take place in the Parliamentary Committees and it is not partywise."

The veteran Parliamentarian, who has herself headed and participated in many such committees, feels that allowing the media in the proceedings would hamper the spirit of consensus building in such panels, which is so essential for democracy.

She said she had often seen members taking stands which were quite contrary to their parties on the issue. She said the churning inside committees becomes more intense because there is no media inside.

"The discussions in the committee is like that in a family. There may be heated debates and discussions before a stand is decided like that in a family," she said suggesting that if media is there, people will start positioning themselves and play to the gallery and the purpose of the panel would be frustrated.

One of Mahajan`s predecessors Somnath Chatterjee who
presided over the 14th Lok Sabha had proposed that the proceedings of the Parliamentary standing committees be made public, but it did not find favour with several MPs and leaders.

Mahajan as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Rural Development, is credited with coming out with a report on the historical Land Acquisition bill which was hailed by all.

She had sought to quell trouble in the House in the just concluded session by telling seniors that they would be setting a bad precedent before the newcomers to the Lok Sabha, who constitute as many as 315 of the total 543 members.

When some members carried placards in the House, the next day`s Lok Sabha bulletin had a message to members reminding them of the rules under which such actions are prohibited.

About future plans, she said that with first timers in large numbers, she wants to lay emphasis on training and will consider introduction of new things in the training pattern so that the members become more effective lawmakers.

Mahajan said that she also believes in quality debates in Parliament. She said that as a parliamentarian, she has been impressed by veterans like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the late Indrajit Gupta, Chandra Shekhar and Vasant Sathe.

Recalling that when she was a new member, she had the honour of being appreciated by leaders like P V Narasimha Rao over the speeches or points she made in the House, she lamented that the practice of appreciation of new and young members is diminishing while that of hooting out a member is growing.

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