Speech Delivered by Hon’ble Speaker Shri Somnath Chatterjee in the House on 04 June, 2004, while accepting the Office of the Speaker, Lok Sabha:
Hon. Members, I am extremely thankful to you for unanimously electing me to the high office of the Speaker of this august House. I do not have words adequately to express my feelings for the great honour bestowed on me and I accept the same with all humility and gratitude. I am overwhelmed by the generous sentiments expressed for me by all sections of the House.
Today I cannot help remembering the day when I first entered this great Chamber in the year 1971 as a new Member and I must confess that I was overawed in the presence of giants and luminaries who added great lustre to the proceedings of the House. As a back bencher, I had the opportunity to listen to some of the great orations inside the House which inspired me to be worthy of the confidence reposed by the people by electing me to the House. I cannot also forget witnessing from the Visitors’ Gallery on occasions the proceedings in the House when my father, late Shri N.C. Chatterjee, was one of the Members. I had the great privilege of hearing some of the most inspiring interventions by, amongst others, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Pandit Pant, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Shri N. C. Chatterjee, Prof. Hiren Mukherjee, Shri Nath Pai and many others. Please excuse me for the nostalgic feeling that I have on this occasion.
I am also grateful to the hon. Prime Minister for his kind reference to my father. I find his award of degree to him was well justified and he has more than proved his merit, and today I must congratulate him once again for occupying this position of high honour.
Hon. Members, the Fourteenth Lok Sabha has got the people’s mandate to usher in a new era. This is a unique responsibility bestowed on this august House. Our country has made progress in various fields since Independence. However, a lot more needs to be done for the benefit of the common people. We have to ensure that the creative potential and energies of our people are harnessed for fulfilling the hopes and aspirations of various sections of our society, particularly the deprived and the dispossessed, by providing a developing, pro-people and secular administration.
Lok Sabha is the highest elected body in the largest parliamentary democracy in the world and occupies the pivotal position in our political system. Our founding fathers, after considerable deliberations, decided to adopt the parliamentary system of governance with the Lok Sabha elected on adult franchise and the Council of Ministers responsible to the same. The people of India participate in the parliamentary process through their representatives in Lok Sabha. Members of Parliament who are elected on the basis of their pledge contained in their manifestoes are expected to articulate the urges and aspirations of the people, to discuss problems and issues facing the nation and to deliberate upon the formulation of national policies and programmes with a view to finding solutions to them. The very postulate of parliamentary democracy as is enshrined in our Constitution is the collective responsibility of Central Council of Ministers to the House of People. For every action of the Government it is liable to answer in this House.
This House represents all sections of our people with their very socio-cultural identities, ethos and genius, differences of ideas, interests, approaches and objectives as they are bound to arise during the deliberations in the House. As a strong integrating force in the country, this House, which is the people’s institution in the true sense of the term is called upon to resolve the various socio-political and economic problems faced by the people.
Even after more than five decades of Independence, in course of which we have celebrated the Golden Jubilee of our Parliament, a very substantial number of our people still face awesome problems and do not enjoy even the minimum rights which the Constitution, our organic law contemplates for them. Abysmal poverty, illiteracy, high child mortality, absence of adequate healthcare, lack of job opportunities, non-availability of pure drinking water in many areas, amongst others, are the problems which still haunt the common people and resulted in effective denial of the constitutional and indeed the basic human rights to our people.
The common people of our country, particularly the toiling sections, the workers, the peasants and the farmers, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, the women and the minorities have not been able to fulfil their minimum needs. The condition of the working class in the country is still extremely uncertain with mounting unemployment figures. In such circumstances, I humbly feel that it is the bounden duty of us all, as Members of Parliament, to play a very active, responsible and effective role to meet the aspirations of the people.
The Parliament is constituted by the people. It has to deliberate upon and deal with the problems of the people and ultimately find their solutions for the people.
The Rules of business and procedure in Lok Sabha have been framed for the orderly conduct of its business and several avenues for obtaining redressal of the people’s grievances have also been provided in the rules. My appeal to all the hon. Members is to utilise these rules in a proper manner so that they can play an effective role as Members of this august House.
Nowadays considerable criticism is being faced by the Members of Parliament about their failure to maintain decorum and dignity in the House. The behaviour and conduct of some legislators have become subject of justified criticism and in some cases even of ridicule. Unfortunately, there is developing more and more an attitude of confrontation than cooperation in our political life which finds its reflection in the House. We should resolve to change this perception in the minds of the people by our own conduct, both inside and outside the House.
Hon. Members, I am fully conscious of the responsibility bestowed on me as the Speaker of this august House. The willing co-operation you have promised today on the floor of the House gives the strength to shoulder the great responsibility and prove myself worthy of the trust you have reposed in me. Conscious as I am of the responsibility that has been entrusted, I can assure you that I shall always endeavour to conduct the business of this House in keeping with the lofty ideals and noble goals enshrined in our great Constitution and in the Rules of Procedure and in tune with the highest parliamentary traditions.
I am fully aware that as the Speaker, my conduct and behaviour will always be under close scrutiny. Maintaining the high standards laid down by the distinguished predecessors starting from Shri Vithalbhai Patel, Shri G.V. Mavalankar up to Shri Manohar Joshi, I shall spare no effort to uphold and, if possible, further enhance the dignity and prestige of this high constitutional office in regulating the proceedings of this House and addressing the concerns of its Members.
I shall discharge my functions entrusted to this office more as a duty rather than as an authority. The non-party character of the office of the Speaker in our parliamentary polity places on me a special obligation to be totally non-partisan and judicious while regulating the proceedings of the House. So long as I occupy this exalted Chair, I assure you that I shall always strive to protect to the best of my ability the rights and privileges of the House and of its Members irrespective of their political affiliations.
Hon. Members, I can assure you that to me, all the hon. Members are of the same status and are entitled to the same facilities, irrespective of the party to which one may belong, and will be entitled to the same opportunity. The only status that I recognise is that all of you are elected and hon. Members of this great institution.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had observed at a Seminar on Parliamentary Democracy held on 6th December, 1957 that:
'Deliberately and after long argument, we in India adopted a Constitution based on parliamentary Government. We praise the parliamentary form of Government because it is a peaceful method of dealing with problems. It is a method of agreement, discussion, decision and accepting the decision even though one may or may not agree with it. However, a minority in a parliamentary Government has a very important part to play. Naturally, the majority by the mere fact that it is majority must have its way. '
Parliament should function through debate, discussion and consensus and it can only do so if the deliberations are marked by a sense of commitment to the cause of the people and the atmosphere in the House is kept free from bitterness and acrimony. Unless the rules, regulations and well-established parliamentary conventions are respected by each and every Member and unless the Members exhibit mutual accommodation and respect whenever there are differing points of view, our parliamentary democracy will remain imperfect. The Treasury Benches and the Opposition have equal responsibilities in ensuring good governance in the country. While discharging their parliamentary responsibilities, both sides are expected to be accommodating and forbearing to each other, particularly when contentious issues are debated on the floor of the House.
A Member of Parliament occupies a very high place in the eyes of the people. The effectiveness of the functioning of this House would depend to a great extent on how scrupulously we, the Members follow various rules and guidelines which are a prerequisite for the orderly transaction of parliamentary business. Here, I need hardly emphasise that the observance of discipline and decorum on the part of the Members is an essential pre-condition for the smooth and efficient functioning of the House. Besides the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business, there exist numerous customs and conventions, rules of parliamentary etiquette and unrecorded traditions, which have to be observed by every Member in the interest of parliamentary decorum. One need hardly emphasise that it is the quality of our behaviour and the substance of our deliberations that will decide whether we are able to enhance the prestige of this august House and promote faith in our parliamentary institution.
With many young faces making their debut in the Lok Sabha in the just concluded General Elections, this House has the benefit of utilising a pool of constructive energies together with experience of the senior Members in responding to the issues concerning the hopes and aspirations of the common masses.
I hope every newly elected Member will function with commitment and learn and follow the rules of the game and make valuable contributions to the proceedings of the House. May I suggest the newcomers may get themselves conversant with the established parliamentary traditions and conventions and learn to make full use of all their valuable procedural devices so that they may contribute effectively towards redressal of the people’s grievances.
The role of the media in providing an effective interface between the people and the Parliament cannot be overemphasised. I am fully confident that a responsible and adequate coverage of the proceedings of the House by the media will go a long way in projecting the right image of the supreme national forum. I seek a meaningful cooperation from the media.
I am grateful to the hon. Members for their warm expressions about me and for assuring me their unstinted cooperation. I express my grateful thanks to the hon. Prime Minister; hon. Leader of the House; Shrimati Sonia Gandhi; Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee; hon. Leader of Opposition, Shri L. K. Advani; Leaders of various Parties; and other distinguished friends for the warm sentiments they have expressed about me. To run the House successfully, I look forward to your cooperation. On my part let me assure you once again that I shall endeavour my best to justify the trust that you have reposed in me and meet your expectations.
Let us all join our hands in heralding a new era of peace, progress and prosperity for our country through the discharge of our duty as the chosen representatives of the people. I earnestly seek your kind cooperation and help in the discharge of my onerous duty.
As a Leftist, as one belonging to the Left Party, friends on my left may be rest assured that I have a natural leaning towards the left. Let us resolve that we shall perform the task assigned to us to the best of our ability and with sincerity. We should ask ourselves when the House rises for the day every evening as to what we have done during the day for the country and for the people and whether we have justified the people’s faith in sending us here. Nothing will give us more satisfaction than the feeling that we have tried and done our best.
Thank you very much.