In an address to the Legislative Assembly, he says rules for observance of parliamentary etiquette should be strengthened

Vice-President M. Hamid Ansari has said that disclosure of assets and liabilities of legislators should be supplemented by more stringent ‘conflict of interest’ procedures.

Addressing a special meeting of the State Legislative Assembly in connection with the 125th anniversary of the State legislature here on Wednesday, the Vice-President said other parliamentary democracies practised such procedures.

Mr. Ansari suggested that the committee system of legislatures could be strengthened by having higher attendance requirement and induction of experts in an advisory capacity.

“The present practice of exempting Ministers from appearance before the committees should be reviewed. As in other parliamentary democracies, the examination of witnesses (but not the finalisation of reports) should be open to the public. This will make the public better aware of this important aspect of the work of legislatures.”

He said that the implementation of the decision of the conference of presiding officers on increasing the number of working days to 110, 90, and 50 for Parliament, larger, and smaller State Assemblies, respectively, would be highly desirable. It would make available sufficient time for scrutiny of legislative proposals, discussion on issues of public concern, and overall accountability of the executive. The number of sittings by legislatures had been coming down over the past six decades.

He suggested that rules for observance of parliamentary etiquette and norms of civility needed to be made stricter and enforced more stringently. “An effort needs to be made to appreciate that excitability, decibel intensity, and verbosity do not add to the strength of the argument or the dignity of the legislature. A legislator’s oath of office, ‘to faithfully discharge the duty upon which I am about to enter,’ could perhaps be amplified to include observance of rules of procedure of the legislative body concerned.”

He said that notwithstanding solemn commitments, the time of legislatures continued to be lost in disruptions and at the expense of listed business, both of accountability and of legislation.

“These disruptions take place with the knowledge, and at the instance, of political parties and their leaderships, and are undertaken to attract public attention, force the executive to undertake the course of action proposed by them, and demonstrate their ability to logjam the functioning of the legislature.”

Noting that the boundaries of freedom of expression get transgressed when agitation takes the place of debate and other members of House are prevented from enjoying the right to speak, Mr. Ansari stressed that corrective steps ought to be taken. However, a corrective in the shape of disciplinary action by the Presiding Officers is hampered, if not made dysfunctional, by the refusal of the legislative body or a good segment of it to support the Chair. “The unfortunate reality today is that these rules of procedure are being violated brazenly and with impunity.”

Dr. Ansari observed that the ‘First-Past-the Post’ system in elections often resulted in the successful candidates being electorally endorsed by no more than a quarter or a third of the electorate.

“The Venkatachaliah Commission had drawn attention to some aspects of the matter and recommended that the option of 50+1 should be explored. This is yet to be done.”

Commending the record of progressive legislation in Kerala, he said the State could be looked up to as a model in many areas of national activity.

“The purpose of a legislative body is to deliberate, legislate, and seek accountability from the executive. The records of the sessions of the Kerala Legislative Assembly indicate that this has been done in adequate measure. This is a tribute to the commitment of generations of legislators, to the political awareness of the electorate, and to their adherence to the principles of parliamentary democracy.

“Another characteristic of Kerala’s political scene is its adherence to the classic pattern of two political combinations. This is at variance with the fragmentation in evidence in many other States as also in the Centre.”

Governor Nikhil Kumar, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, and Leader of the Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan addressed the meeting.

The Vice-president later planted a tree in the Legislature Assembly complex, posed for a photo session with the legislators, and interacted with them.

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