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New Delhi: Like in most other fields, Indian politics is discovering the benefits of interns or legislative assistants, who while learning about governance, help parliamentarians research policy issues and make informed decisions. The MPs, on their part, call it an "excellent initiative".
More and more MPs in India, like their counterparts in some western countries, are using the services of legislative assistants to get to the bottom of policy issues and make informed interventions in parliament.
The concept of legislative assistants is gaining wider currency following attempts to institutionalise the process. PRS Legislative Research, a New Delhi based not-for-profit research initiative, has started a programme called LAMPs (Legislative Assistance for Members of Parliament) to popularise the concept in parliament and universities.
"We started this mainly because our MPs don't have research staff when they need to prepare for very diverse subjects that come up for discussion. They need to do the research themselves which is very suboptimal. What we feel is that there is an example in other countries where research staff provide well researched and very critical inputs to their policy makers," CV Madhukar, director of PRS, told a news agency.
PRS Legislative Research conducted two pilot programmes in 2007 and 2008 where a few MPs were provided research assistants. It is now set to launch a training programme for 20 interns later this month.
Madhukar said over 500 applications were received for 20 internships. "They (the candidates) had to send us their bio-data and a statement of purpose. Following an interview of about 65 candidates, 20 were selected."
He said PRS was yet to decide the MPs with whom the interns will be attached.
The interns, he said, will be given Rs.10,000 per month as fellowship amount and an additional Rs.2,000 for incidental expenses.
Welcoming the initiative, Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram Shashi Tharoor told the news agency, "This is an excellent initiative. Our MPs have much less research assistance than their counterparts in other democracies. A well-supported MP is a more effective MP, and Indian democracy would be better served."
While Tharoor looks forward to working with legislative assistants, a few MPs who have already benefited from the assistance say researchers in their office help them play an effective role as parliamentarians, while allowing them to cope with the increasing demands on their time from their electorate.
"How can you look after 15 lakh people without assistance? The work of an MP is very technical," said Navjot Singh Sidhu, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Amritsar.
Sidhu, who uses the services of legislative assistants, says that MPs in foreign countries have several interns working in their offices who bring efficiency to their work.
He says that NGOs can be tapped by MPs to get legislative assistants and the government should also step in to provide support for hiring them.
JP Agarwal, Congress MP from northeast Delhi, commends the role of interns he has worked with.
"The young people who work as legislative assistants were very helpful and enterprising. They are very knowledgeable. I have worked with them and been helped by them. They have given me good briefings on supplementary questions in parliament," he said.
Agarwal says the interns are courteous and eager. "They never argue and don't find excuses. They are very dedicated."
The MIT School of Government (MITSOG) in Pune runs a one-year masters programme in government in which students are attached to MPs for internship as part of their practical training.
"It is a programme to train future leaders and students have various choices. The students learn theory, go on a foreign tour to study the working of other parliaments and do internships," Rahul Karad, executive dean and a founder of MITSOG, told IANS.
Bhavana Gawali Patil, who is among the youngest Shiv Sena MPs, said the concept of legislative interns was beneficial.
"We are not able to devote enough time to study legislation due to demands of electorate. Interns can provide us pointed briefings and learn from our interactions with people," she said.