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MPs ask Speaker Om Birla for classes on different bills, then bunk the lessons

Lok Sabha official says the classes were planned after several MPs complained they face difficulty in preparing speeches during debates on specific bills.

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New Delhi: Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla started the winter session with an initiative to educate MPs about bills up for passage by the House. But there have been few takers for the expert classes he has organised.

While 85 MPs turned up for the first class on 18 November, meant to tackle the nuances of the Chit Funds (Amendment) Bill, the number fell to 31 for the second session Wednesday, on the Taxation Laws (Amendment) Bill.

Attendance was down to 23 by the third class Friday, where experts discussed the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (Production, Manufacture, Import, Export, Transport, Sale, Distribution, Storage and Advertisement) Bill.

A Lok Sabha official said the classes were a fallout of an oft-repeated grievance among several MPs, that “they face difficulty in preparing speeches during debates on specific bills”.

“In the current House, lots of MPs are new and they don’t know much about subject-specific bills,” the official added. “So, the Speaker felt there is a need for expert classes before bills are tabled. It would help them with better intervention and preparation of speeches.”

The classes were not mandatory. Even so, the low participation is said to have annoyed the Speaker’s office, and there are plans to raise the matter with Birla and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi.

Asked about the low turnout, an MP who is part of the health standing committee but didn’t attend the class on the e-cigarettes bill said attendance was not mandatory.

“Only those MPs go for these briefings who want to prepare their speech better or they don’t know much about the subject,” the MP added.

Also read: In Pictures: Parliament’s Winter session begins. It also marks 250th session of Rajya Sabha

The bills discussed

The Chit Funds (Amendment) Bill, which was taken up in the first class last Monday, seeks to regulate chit funds and protect investors. It was listed for discussion the same day.

The class was conducted by Special Secretary Ravi Mittal and Joint Secretary Madesh Kumar Mishra, both from the Union Ministry of Finance. The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha Wednesday.

The second expert class tackled the taxation bill, which replaces the ordinance issued in October to cut the corporate tax rate, and was led by Rakesh Bhut, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, and Central Board of Direct Taxes member Akhilesh Ranjan. The bill is yet to be introduced.

The third session, on the bill to ban e-cigarettes, was anchored by Vikas Sheel, Joint Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, the nodal ministry for the legislation. The bill was introduced Friday.

“There are more than 15 bills to come in this session and, accordingly, there will be classes for MPs,” one of the officials engaged in organising the expert classes said. “If the MPs want an independent view point, more experts can be called.”

Low attendance irked MPs

This is not the first time this session when MPs have come under the scanner for being less-than-enthusiastic about their parliamentary profile.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi entered the House during question hour Wednesday, the low attendance of ministers put him off. He subsequently conveyed his displeasure to the Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi, said sources.

Last Friday, a meeting of the standing committee on urban affairs was cancelled when only four of 29 members turned up. The committee was meant to discuss Delhi’s pollution crisis after four consecutive days of poor air quality.

On Thursday, following a complaint from Bhupendra Yadav, the chairman of two standing committees, Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu said he should be informed if any MP skipped meetings of parliamentary panels.

Also read: At its 250th session, Modi and Manmohan spar over Rajya Sabha’s system of checks & balances


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