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Shri Somnath Chatterjee

As the Presiding Officer of directly elected House of the People, the Lok Sabha, Speaker is one of the highest constitutional functionaries in India’s Parliamentary system. The sustenance of people’s faith in the democratic institutions depends a great deal on the finesse and effectiveness with which the Speaker conducts the proceedings of the Lower House of Parliament. Indian Parliament, down its history, has had a galaxy of eminent Speakers, who have lent dignity and prestige to the Chair. Shri Somnath Chatterjee joined this illustrious line of Speakers, when he was elected unanimously to the exalted position on 4 June 2004. As Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru said, the Speaker represents the nation, its freedom and liberty.

Born in Tezpur, in Assam on 25 July 1929 to Shri N.C. Chatterjee and Smt. Binapani Debi, Shri Chatterjee had his education in Calcutta and the United Kingdom. He is M.A (Cantab) and Barrister-at-Law from Middle Temple in U.K. Shri Chatterjee is married to Smt. Renu Chatterjee. They have one son and two daughters.

Political Career

Shri Somnath Chatterjee began his career as a lawyer and joined active politics in 1968, when he became a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). His ascendance in national politics began with his election to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1971. Since then, he has served as a Member in all successive Lok Sabhas, getting elected for the tenth time in 2004 to the current 14th Lok Sabha. From 1989 till 2004, he was the Leader of the CPI(M) in Lok Sabha. His repeated victories in Lok Sabha elections with impressive margins testify to his popularity with the masses, his standing in the party and his towering stature as a parliamentarian.

As a Parliamentarian

With an abiding faith in parliamentary democracy, Shri Somnath Chatterjee has served as a distinguished parliamentarian for over three and a half decades. He has carved a niche for himself as an eloquent speaker and an effective legislator. In recognition of his immense and invaluable contribution in the strengthening of India’s parliamentary system, he was conferred the “Outstanding Parliamentarian Award” in 1996. He has contributed richly to the deliberations of the House since 1971 by participating in the debates on important issues. Shri Chatterjee has never missed a chance to champion the cause of the working classes and the deprived people, by effectively articulating their issues. His debating skills, clear understanding of national and international issues, command over the language and the wit and humour with which he presents his viewpoints in the House make him an eminent parliamentarian, who is heard by the House with rapt attention.

His speeches in the House reveal a lawyer’s mastery over the rules and regulations governing the conduct of business. Throughout his parliamentary career, he has set an example in upholding the values and traditions that enhance the dignity of the House and give strength to the institution of Parliament. Shri Chatterjee has adorned several parliamentary Committees as Chairman and as Member. He served with distinction as Chairman, Committee on Subordinate Legislation and Committee on Information Technology (2 terms), Committee of Privileges, Committee on Railways, Committee on Communications (3 terms). He has been a Member of the Rules Committee, General Purposes Committee, Business Advisory Committee and the Ethics Committee, to name a few. He was associated as a Member of several Joint Committees and Select Committees, particularly the ones requiring expertise in law. As a Barrister and as a senior lawyer, he has brought his legal acumen to the sphere of legislation, both in the House and its Committees.

Election as Speaker of Lok Sabha

By unanimously electing Shri Somnath Chatterjee, Speaker of the 14th Lok Sabha on 4 June 2004, the House was creating history. For the first time, it was electing the Speaker pro-tem as Speaker of the Lok Sabha. On 4 June, 2004 the Leader of the Congress Party, Smt. Sonia Gandhi moved the Motion proposing the election of Shri Somnath Chatterjee as Speaker. The Motion was seconded by the Defence Minister, Shri Pranab Mukherjee. It is significant that the Leaders of 17 other Parties in Lok Sabha also had proposed his name which was seconded by Leaders of other Parties. When the Motion was put before the House for consideration and vote, the House adopted it unanimously and Shri Somnath Chatterjee was elected Speaker unopposed.

Congratulating Shri Chatterjee on his election to this exalted office of the Speaker, the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition and the Leaders of all Political Parties in the Lok Sabha, expressed confidence in his ability to preside over and conduct the proceedings of the House in an impartial and dignified manner, upholding the highest traditions of Parliamentary Democracy, in the country, in the evolution of which his own contribution has been quite significant.

Replying to the felicitations, Shri Somnath Chatterjee said:


As Speaker

As Speaker, Shri Somnath Chatterjee symbolises the dignity and credibility of the Lok Sabha and the entire system of parliamentary democracy.

Shri Somnath Chatterjee has taken initiatives in improving the conduct of House proceedings and he has given many important rulings and landmark decisions in this regard. His conduct of the proceedings of the House during the Trust Vote of 22 July, 2008 evoked widespread appreciation from a cross section of citizens from India and overseas.

In order to ensure structured discussion on important issues in the House, Shri Chatterjee has been holding Meetings with Leaders of political parties on a regular basis, before and during all Sessions. Important matters involving misconduct have been referred to the Privileges Committee or a Specially Constituted Committee which has resulted in expulsion and suspension of Members of Parliament.

He has, in consultation with the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, revised the rules for Committee Tours. Reports of International Tours, Conferences and Visits by Parliamentary Delegations overseas are now placed on the Table of the House.

Shri Chatterjee has taken an active interest in the Training and Orientation of newly elected Members of State Assemblies. Apart from regularly addressing the Conference of Presiding Officers of Legislature in States and U.T.s, he has addressed the newly elected Members of the Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha (Bhopal/ 21 June, 2004); Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha (Jaipur / 2 July, 2004); Maharashtra Legislature (New Delhi / 2-4 March, 2005); Kerala Legislative Assembly (Thissur, / 7 August, 2005) ; Bihar Vidhan Sabha (Patna / 6-7 February, 2006). He also addressed the Chairmen of the Committees on Government Assurances of Parliament and State / U.T. Legislatures (New Delhi / 31 October, 2006).

Shri Chatterjee has been invited across the country to address distinguished gatherings on contemporary subjects of regional, national and international importance. He addressed, The Delhi Union of Journalists at the Seminar on ‘Parliament, Press and the People’ (New Delhi/ 23 February, 2005); The Seventh Joint Convention of the Pakistan – India Forum for Peace and Democracy (New Delhi/ 25 February, 2005); The Delhi University at the 3 –day National Meet on the Theme “A dialogue on North-East” (New Delhi/ 2 March, 2005); The 22nd Asian Parliamentary Meeting on Population and Development (New Delhi/ 23 April, 2006); The Seminar on Nepal organized by the South Asian Foundation and the Vichar Nyas (New Delhi / 22 May, 2006); the Book Release Function, “Kashmir, Virasat or Siyasat” (New Delhi / 26 May, 2006); The Conference of Ministers of Health, Agriculture/ Livestock on Avian Influenza Control and Pandemic Preparedness in Asia (New Delhi/ 28 July, 2006).

Shri Chatterjee has delivered Lectures at Functions organised by various prestigious Societies and Institutions. He spoke at the 9th J R D Tata Memorial Oration (New Delhi/ 30 March, 2005) on the subject “Towards Population Stabilization; Role of Good Governance”; 6th D P Kohli Memorial Lecture (New Delhi / 28 April, 2005) on “Parliamentary Democracy in India – Present and Future”; 2nd Nani Palkhivala Lecture (New Delhi/ 12 May, 2005) on “The Scheme of Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances in the Constitution”; V K Krishna Menon Memorial Lecture (Ernakulam/ 6 August, 2005) on “Making Democracy relevant for the Common Man”;Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly (Hyderabad/ 3 December, 2005) on “Role of Parliamentary Democracy in Strengthening the Nation”; 1st Lecture in the Delhi University Lecture Series (New Delhi / 8 March, 2006) on “Challenges before Indian Democracy”; 9th G V Mavlankar Memorial Lecture (New Delhi/ 24 August, 2006) on “ Judiciary and Legislature under the Constitution”; Rajyothsava Day of the State of Karnataka and the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of the High Court of Karnataka on “Justice Delivery System : Issues and Problems” (Bangalore, 1 November, 2006); Concluding function of the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, Hyderabad (4 November, 2006); Dr.Ambedkar Memorial Lecture on “Law and Social Change” at Aligarh Muslim University (Aligarh/ 24 February, 2007); 26th Annual Convocation of The Institute of Rural Management, Anand, Gujarat on “Rural India: Developmental Challenges” (Anand, Gujarat/ 3 April, 2007); Dr.K.N.Katju Memorial Lecture on “Separation of Powers and Judicial Activism in India” (New Delhi/ 26 April, 2007); The 2nd Annual Convocation Address at the West Bengal National University of Judicial Sciences (Kolkata/ 23 June, 2007); Sarat Chandra Bose Memorial Lecture on “India at Sixty : Achievements and Challenges” (Kolkata/ 1 September, 2007); Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture on “Status of Parliamentary Democracy in India” (New Delhi/ 14 November 2007); N. L. Belekar Memorial Lecture on “The Role of Legislature and Judiciary in Protecting and Enhancing the People’s Rights in our Democracy” (Nagpur/ 18 February 2008). Lokanath Choudhury Memorial Lecture on “India at 60 – An Agenda for Inclusive Development” (Bhubaneswar/ 8 June 2008); E.M.S. Namboodiripad Memorial Lecture on “Democratic Consolidation: The Indian Experience” (Thiruvananthapuram/ 13 June, 2008);

Parliamentary Diplomacy

A widely traveled person, Shri Chatterjee has been Member of several Government and Parliamentary Delegations. As Speaker, he has led the Indian Parliamentary Delegation to 111th Assembly of the IPU in Geneva (28 September – 1 October, 2004), 112th Assembly of the IPU on “The impact of Domestic and International Policies on the situation of Women”, in Manila (3- 8 April, 2005); 113th Assembly of IPU in Geneva (17-19 September, 2005); 115th Assembly of IPU in Geneva (16-18 October, 2006). He led Indian Parliamentary Delegation to the 50th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Canada (31 August – 1 September, 2004); 51st Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Nadi, Fiji Islands, 1-10 September, 2005; 52nd Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Abuja, Nigeria (1-10 September, 2006); 18th Commonwealth Speakers and Presiding Officers Conference in Nairobi, (3-8 January, 2006) ; CPA Mid-year Ex Co Meeting, Isle of Man, (3-6 May, 2006); 100th Anniversary of the Parliamentary Reforms in Finland at Helsinki (1-4 June, 2006); CPA/Wilton Park Conference, London (5-9 June, 2006); Mid-Year CPA Executive Committee in Cyprus (16-20 April, 2007). He has led IPDs to Japan (1-8 November, 2004), Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Germany (31 May to 13 June 2005), The People’s Republic of China (3-8 July, 2006) and Greece (25-28 September, 2006), Saudi Arab (9-13 February, 2007) and Vietnam (22-28 March, 2007). During the visit to China, the Indian Parliament signed its first MOU with its counterpart in China seeking to enhance Parliamentary exchange and cooperation; He also led the Indian Parliamentary delegation to Cuba (6-10 January, 2008) and The Republic of Bulgaria (16-20 June, 2008). Shri Chatterjee led the Indian Parliamentary delegation to 54th CPA in Malaysia (1-9 August, 2008).

To enhance India’s prestige abroad, special efforts have been made by the Hon’ble Speaker to improve the quality of presentations during important International Conferences, such as Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, (CPA), Inter- Parliamentary Union (IPU) and other Seminars and Workshops.

Primarily, due to the special diplomatic efforts of the Hon’ble Speaker of Lok Sabha, Shri Hashim Abdul Halim, Speaker of West Bengal Legislative Assembly, was elected by an overwhelming majority as the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association on 2 September, 2005 at the CPA Conference, Nadi (Fiji) for a 3 – year term. This honour came to an Indian delegate after 20 years! In September 2006, Shri Chatterjee was elected as the President of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association at Abuja, Nigeria. Under his leadership and able guidance, India successfully hosted the 53rd CPA conference in New Delhi during September, 2007 where achievements of India in diverse fields were showcased to 52 countries. Shri Chatterjee led the Indian Parliamentary Delegation to the 117th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union at Geneva (5-10 October, 2007). He attended the 19th Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth in London (2-6 January, 2008).

Friendship Groups

As of now, there are 57 Friendship Groups with Parliaments of other countries in different stages of constitution/ re-constitution. Out of these, 33 Groups such as China, Germany, Mongolia, Russia, Vietnam, Greece etc. have been formally constituted, with the appointment of their office bearers. The main object of these Friendship Groups is to enhance contacts and interactions between them and their counterparts in the foreign countries. The parameters of interactions have been worked out in consultation with the Ministry of External Affairs. The Friendship Groups are now associated with various Programmes during visits of foreign dignitaries to India, which was not done earlier.

Televising proceedings of the House

On the initiative of Shri Chatterjee, the proceedings of the ‘Zero Hour’ were telecast live from 5 July 2004. Shri Chatterjee believed that the move was in recognition of the people’s right to know and was not aimed at disciplining the members, nor did he think it would expose Parliament to criticism. To provide a more comprehensive media coverage of Parliamentary proceedings, a full- fledged 24 –hour Lok Sabha Television Channel has become operational with effect from July 24, 2006. This has led to a virtual extension of the Visitors Gallery of the House across the country and is expected to bring the people closer to the Parliament. This is the only one of its kind in the world.


Effective Oversight of Government

Yet another significant initiative taken by Shri Chatterjee is in respect of the functioning of the Departmentally Related Standing Committees (DRSCs). The Direction 73A provides that the Minister concerned shall, once in six months, make a Statement in the House on the status of implementation of recommendations contained in the Reports of the DRSCs of Lok Sabha with regard to his/ her Ministry. This has considerably helped in the implementation of the recommendations of the Committees, which are generally unanimous. There has also been a marked increase in the number of ‘Calling Attention Motions’ and ‘Adjournment Motions’ during the 14th Lok Sabha. During the term of the 14th Lok Sabha, a total of 113 Calling Attention Motions and 7 Adjournment Motions have been called till date.

The Hon’ble Speaker has advocated that the Members themselves should not vote on their pay and allowances and that the same should be done by an independent Commission. The Leader of all Parties supported the suggestion. Accordingly, a proposal was submitted to the Prime Minister for creating an institutional mechanism for fixation of the pay and allowances of the Hon’ble Members, from time to time.

Administrative Reforms in Lok Sabha Secretariat

A comprehensive Cadre Review of the different Services in Lok Sabha Secretariat has been undertaken at the Hon’ble Speaker’s initiative with a view to re-assessing manpower requirement, their effective deployment, charting improved career prospects and upgrading functional efficiency, transparency and accountability. A total of 1787 promotions including Gazetted - 744 and Non-Gazetted- 1043 have been effected since 4 June, 2004. Hon’ble Speaker has delegated administrative and financial powers to the Secretary General to empower the administrative apparatus of the Secretariat and foster true decentralization. A Grievance Redressal Mechanism has been set up in 2005 to enable staff to ventilate and resolve their service-related problems. A Transfer Policy for Staff has been enunciated to avoid ad-hocism. A Pay Committee has been set up after Government’s acceptance of Sixth Pay Commission recommendations.  

Interaction with Media

Hon’ble Speaker has been holding regular meetings with the Media, before and after the Sessions. These have been particularly useful in explaining and clarifying various issues relating to the House proceedings. Orientation Programmes have also been organized by BPST for Media Persons accredited to the Press Gallery of Parliament, which has been highly appreciated. The Press Advisory Committee is being encouraged to hold national seminars and workshops involving their counterparts from the various States.

Highlighting India’s Democratic Heritage

Another important initiative taken by Shri Chatterjee has been the setting up of a high-tech Parliamentary Museum on India’s democratic heritage which was inaugurated by the Hon’ble President of India on 14 August, 2006. The Museum lucidly present the various phases in the evolution of Indian democracy. This Museum is open for public viewing and is a big draw especially for students.

Parliamentary Forums

Parliamentary Forums on (i) Water Conservation and Management, (ii) Children, (iii) Youth and (iv) Population and Public Health, were established in 2005-06 for the first time to equip the Members of Parliament with information and knowledge regarding developments in these sectors and also to make them adopt a result-oriented approach towards related issues. A forum on Global Warming and Climate Change has also been constituted.

Lecture Series for MPs

Apart from conducting regular training programmes, BPST, under the Hon’ble Speaker’s advice, has, in 2005, started a “Lecture Series” for the Members of Parliament on various important issues including “Water Conservation” by Ms.Sunita Narain, Director, CSE (17 August, 2005) ; “Need for Having a Value Added Tax System” by Dr. Parthasarathi Shome, Advisor to Hon’ble Minister of Finance (24 August, 2005) ; “Children’s Development: Challenges Facing India” by Ms. Ann Veneman, Executive Director, UNICEF (9 December, 2005) ; “Right to Information as an Instrument For Rural Development” by Smt. Aruna Roy (15 December, 2005) ; “India’s Challenges to meet the Millennium Development Goals” by Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director, Earth Institute at Columbia University, New York, USA (3 August, 2006); “Perspectives on the 1857 uprising” by Prof. Irfan Habib, Professor and Head of Department of History (Retd.), Aligarh Muslim University (9 May, 2007); “Farm Crisis: Why have over a lakh farmers killed themselves during the last decade?” by Shr P. Sainath, Rural Editor, The Hindu (6 September, 2007); ‘Global Warming and Climate Change’ by Former Vice President of the United States of America, Mr. Albert Arnold Al Gore, Jr. (14 March 2008); “Climate Change: Implications for India” by Dr.R.K.Pachauri, Chairman, Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change and Director General, TERI (25 April, 2008)

Consulting Exercises

Hon’ble Speaker has been regularly consulting Experts in order to seek their inputs on important policy and programmatic issues. Wide-ranging discussions on important Constitutional issues such as the separation of powers between the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary have been taken up. A Round Table with eminent persons from diverse fields was held on 4 September, 2008.

Widening access to Parliament Library

Till recently, the rich collection of books and journals in the Parliament Library was accessible only to Members of Parliament. On the initiative of the Hon’ble Speaker, access to the Library has been extended to Research Scholars from Universities and Institutions of repute as well as Journalists accredited by the PIB and Government officials.

Children’s Corner

Shri Chatterjee has taken initiative of setting up a well designed, colourful and hi-tech Children’s Corner with an objective of inculcating and encouraging good reading habits among children and to enable them to share the resources of the Library, Museum and Archives of Parliament.

Other Important Events

At the initiative of Hon’ble Speaker, Lok Sabha, a Function was organized in the Central Hall of Parliament House to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of First War of Indian Independence. Various dignitaries and eminent artistes were present to grace the occasion. Shri Chatterjee has taken keen interest in having various cultural programmes of Members of Parliament and Children organized in the Parliament. On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Independence, a special function was also organized in the Central Hall of Parliament. The ‘Prof. Hiren Mukerjee Memorial Annual Parliamentary Lecture’ was instituted in honour of the legendary parliamentarian, outstanding scholar and veteran leader, Prof. Hiren Mukerjee. The inaugural lecture was delivered by Nobel Laureate Prof. Amartya Sen on the theme “Demands of Social Justice” in the Central Hall of Parliament on 11 August, 2008.

Shri Somnath Chatterjee, The Multifaceted Personality

Shri Chatterjee, is a multifaceted personality with varied interests that range from education and sports to constitutional studies. He is a people’s man in every sense of the term. He is a modern man, with strong ideological underpinnings but wedded to liberalism. He combines an unwavering commitment to the basic principles and values of India’s democracy with a rare ability to transcend political divides. He believes in giving equal importance to industrial and agricultural sectors and works hard for the advancement of both. He was the Chairman of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation for over a decade and visited many countries in promoting the State as an attractive investment destination.

Shri Chatterjee is actively associated with a large number of socio-cultural, educational and professional institutions and trade unions. Through these organisations, he is engaged in constructive activities, such as the uplift of the deprived and the downtrodden and eradication of illiteracy. A keen sports enthusiast, he loves watching sports events and is associated with several sports organisations and clubs. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the Mohan Bagan Athletic Club, the Cricket Association of Bengal and the Bengal Table Tennis Association etc.

Member of the Lok Sabha since 1971, Shri Somnath Chatterjee has been a role model for Parliamentarians. A highly accomplished lawyer, a trade unionist, an articulate and effective Parliamentarian, a leader of stature, and now the Speaker of the world’s largest democracy, his record will be difficult to break. Throughout his public life he has been infusing a sense of respect among our people in the institutions of democracy and thereby sustaining the people’s faith in them. Being acutely aware of the disenchantment of the common people with the imperfections in  the system, he has been eager to correct them, constantly reminding those in Parliament of the growing cynicism among the people and that unless correctives are applied, the people would lose faith in the efficacy of Parliamentary democracy as a system of governance. Shri Chatterjee has been passionately trying to infuse into the working of the Lok Sabha greater transparency and accountability so as to restore it to a position of pre-eminence as the highest forum of the world’s largest democracy.

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