As the United Progressive Alliance and the Congress party embarked on an austerity drive in the country, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar on Saturday said it was for Members of Parliament to take a call on the issue on their own.

“I am for Members for making a voluntary gesture as to which class they would like to travel. It is best left to them [to decide],’’ Ms. Kumar said in an interaction with correspondents ahead of her visit to Tanzania leading an Indian Parliamentary delegation for the 55th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference.

Ms. Kumar said as of now it was decided that all meetings of the Parliamentary Standing Committees will be held in Delhi so long as the austerity measures continued. However, she said, the decision to limit the conduct of such meetings in Delhi should not be permanent since MPs get to travel to other parts of the vast country otherwise restricted to visits to their constituency and the national capital.

The CPA conference is being held at Arusha, Tanzania from September 29 to October 5. The delegation, Ms. Kumar said, includes speakers of all the Legislative assemblies while she would be the lead speaker in one of the eight workshops.

On the repeated demand for having greater number of sittings of Parliament, the Lok Sabha speaker said during a recent meeting of Parliamentary Ministers of the Centre and States, she suggested that Parliament should be convened to sit for 110 days, while State Legislative Assemblies have at least 100 days sitting and those with smaller assemblies for 75 days.

Ms. Kumar promised to examine another demand to throw open Committee meetings, a cause dear to her predecessor, Somnath Chatterjee. During his tenure, he took several initiatives to make the Committee hearings open but found resistance.

One of the arguments advanced by leaders was that making the Committee hearings open, would make MPs take to trenches articulating party positions instead of the bi-partisanship exhibited in the current closed door system.

The Lok Sabha Speaker said she will appoint a Committee to study the distress of Parliament House structure. “It is a heritage building and there are distress signs [structurally].” Earlier this year, a portion of the roof of a room that has the office of a Union Minister, caved in leading to an in-house inquiry, following which it was decided to shift the Parliament House cafeteria/kitchen that serves MPs and visitors to a venue outside the building.

Ms. Kumar said she would be talking on the “Role of Parliament in shaping the Information Society”. She would be sharing the Indian experience in enacting the Right to Information and other acts that have empowered people as also the unique Lok Sabha TV, one of its' kind in a parliamentary democracy.

The theme of the CPA is “The Commonwealth and the CPA: Meeting Future Challenges”. The Conference will officially open on October 2, which is now observed as the International Day of Non-Violence.

The CPA was founded in 1911 and aims at promoting advancement of parliamentary democracy by enhancing knowledge and understanding of democratic governance. It has 53 members. India hosted the CPA Conference on four occasions, the last being in 2007.


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