First it was the ‘House’ that lost its aura because members put a premium on politicking. Now the committee system has plunged to a new low because some members are manipulating the panels to further commercial interests.
While the Prime Minister has indicated displeasure at a BJP member “exposing” himself, of critical importance is the manner which the Speaker deals with the issue and sends out a deterrent message. This is not the time to “leave it to the good sense” of the member — if good sense marked their functioning the institution would not have so demeaned itself in public perception these past few years.
Nor would any disciplinary action from the parliamentary affairs minister suffice: had he been effective he would have been aware of how the Committee on Subordinate Legislation was being perverted and checked the offending member, not wait for the embarrassing “explosion”.
The reality is that with the exception of the “prestigious” Public Accounts Committee and the Estimates Committee the membership of the others is determined merely by party strengths, every MP serves on a couple (the allowances are attractive), there is no monitoring of their functioning.
The principle that members declare potential conflicts of interest and recuse themselves from meetings in which such a subject is being examined is seldom put to test — even when other members are aware of such interests. Only if there are political purposes to be served is a fuss raised. Did Opposition members of the committee under focus submit notes of dissent, highlight them? What was the attendance-level at the committee&’s meetings?
It would appear that alive to the difficulties it would encounter in health-related panels the “tobacco lobby” targeted a low-profile committee: only a craving for publicity by the chairman proved the undoing. When last did a recommendation of the Committee on Subordinate Legislation make “front page news”?
Can the minister for parliamentary affairs go beyond pressing Shyama Charan Gupta to step down from the committee? The Speaker is certainly more empowered but most presiding officers back off from cracking the whip: even when the Chair is openly defied. To trace the root of such trouble to its origin — the selection of persons given electoral “tickets” — ould stir up a storm in an era in which “winnability” is the magic mantra. Yet conflict of interest is not new. One cine-star turned neta “mentioned” the need for water-purification even when starring in a commercial promoting one such product.
And decades ago the then Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma, courted controversy quipping that one member had become a “drug addict” — all his several questions pertained to the pharmaceutical industry.