A potential for conflict of interest, says study by National Social Watch

As many as 128 members of the Lok Sabha, forming nearly a fourth of the strength of the lower House, fall in the categories of “industrialist/trader/businessperson/ builder.” In the Rajya Sabha, MPs from these groups (25 out of 245) account for a more modest 10 per cent. However, in a potential conflict of interest, many of the MPs are also members of the Standing and other Parliamentary committees connected to their specific professions.

These “startling” findings have been recorded by the National Social Watch (NSW) — a network of civil society organisations and communities — in its 2010 “Citizens' Report on Governance and Development.” The NSW said, while it did not intend to “jump to conclusions” on the basis of what it had discovered, there was a potential for “conflict of interest” in the situation which could not be underestimated.

The NSW, which analysed the composition of both the Houses based on the professions indicated by the MPs, observed that over the past decade there had been “an exponential growth in (the numbers of ) industrialists, businessmen and others from allied communities getting elected to the Lok Sabha as well as occupying the hallowed precincts of the Rajya Sabha.”

Citing news sources, the NSW report gave specific examples where a “conflict of interest” could arise. At least three members of the Standing Committee on Health run medical education institutes – Prabhakar B. Kore, from the Bharatiya Janata Party, M.A.M Ramaswamy, from the Janata Dal(S), and Datta Meghe, from the Congress.

The 31-member Standing Committee on Finance “is virtually a who's who of industry” comprising, among others venture capitalist Rajeev Chandrasekhar(Independent), and industrialists Jaganmohan Reddy, Jawahar Darda, Sambasiva Rayapati and Magunta Srinivasulu Reddy, all from the Congress. Over a third of the Committee on Industry — 9 out of 26 — are from business and industry. The chairperson of the committee is Akhilesh Das, a BSP MP and a businessman from Uttar Pradesh. Industrialist Naveen Jindal and Andhra Pradesh-based contractor Kavuri Sambasiva Rao, both from the Congress, are members of the Public Accounts Committee.

Notice issued

The NSW noted that the committees on finance and industry were sought after. On one occasion, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee issued a notice to a few of its members, raising the issue of potential conflict of interest: “He asked them why they should not be asked to withdraw from certain meetings, as the issue on the agenda was directly related to their business.”