Headline : Journey of the MP’s code
Background of code of conduct
- Codes of conduct for high constitutional functionaries and representatives of the people have been discussed for long.
- A code for Union ministers was adopted in 1964, and state governments were advised to adopt it as well.
- A conference of Chief Justices in 1999 resolved to adopt a code of conduct for judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts, where a 15-point ‘Re-instatement of Values in Judicial Life’ recommended that serving judges should maintain an air of “aloofness” in their official and personal lives.
- In the case of MPs, the first step was the constitution of Parliamentary Standing Committees on Ethics in both Houses.
Code of conduct in Rajya Sabha
- The first ethics committee in Rajya Sabha was inaugurated in May, 1997 to oversee the moral and ethical conduct of the Members and to examine the cases referred to it with reference to ethical and other misconduct of Members.
- The First Report of the Ethics Committee was adopted on December 15, 1999, and its framework was reiterated in subsequent reports of the Committee.
- The Fourth Report was adopted by Rajya Sabha on April 20, 2005, and a 14-point Code of Conduct for members of the House has been in force since then, which inlcudes resolution of conflict of interest between their personal interests and the public trust which they hold, no fees for vote, and maintenance of ‘Register of Member’s Interests’, etc.
- Code of conduct in Lok Sabha
- The first Ethics Committee in Lok Sabha could be constituted in May, 2000.
- The issue has been raised in every Lok Sabha since then, but has not been taken to its conclusion.
- The Report of the Ethics Committee with regard to amendments to the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha was presented to the Speaker in and laid on the table of the House in December 2014.
- Its recommendations were included in the report of the Rules Committee of Lok Sabha tabled in Lok Sabha on August 5, 2015.
- It said that [the Ethics Committee] shall “formulate a Code of Conduct for Members and suggest amendments or additions to the Code of Conduct from time to time”.
- The matter has since been pending with the Ethics Committee.
Code of conduct in other countries
- In the UK, a code of conduct for MPs was “prepared pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 19 July 1995”.
- The Canadian House of Commons has a Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner with powers to examine violations of the Conflict of Interest Code at the request of another Member or by Resolution of the House or on his own initiative.
- Germany has had a Code of Conduct for members of the Bundestag since 1972.
- The US has had a Code since 1968.
- Pakistan has a Code of Conduct for members of the Senate.
Need of code of conduct in present times
- A Code of Conduct for members of Rajya Sabha has been in force since 2005 but there is no such code for Lok Sabha.
- The Rajya Sabha is already maintaining register of their Members’ interests but there is no such register maintained in Lok Sabha.
- Some of the rules of conduct of Parliament include strictures against laughing in the lobby, throwing paper balls in protest, tearing up documents and rushing to the well of the House but clearly these are not adequate.
- In many instances, it is ignorance among MPs and MLAs that leads to transgressions and unseemly conduct.
- There is decline in quantity and quality of debate and discussions in parliament due to absence of members, especially the nominated members who have expertise.
- In recent times, the obstructive conduct of some MPs and MLAs has caused heartburn among voters who feel that this is disrespectful to the House, those who elected them, and also a waste of public money.
- The report of the Rules Committee tabled on August 5, 2015 is still under consideration of the Ethics Committee.
- This has been a longstanding concern but the progress has been slow and uneven.
The reforms sought by Chairman of Rajya Sabha in his recent remarks
- Expressing his displeasure over the functioning of Parliament, he listed reforms that he felt are necessary for its effective functioning, as well as that of the state legislatures.
- He called on political parties to “evolve a consensus on a code of conduct for their members, both inside the legislature and out of it”.
- The anti-defection laws should be implemented in letter and spirit expeditiously, within three months.
- He urged parties to come together, transcending political considerations, on issues of national importance.
- There is a need for a bias towards farmers in resource allocation to ensure remunerative farming and a robust food security.
- Naidu added that election petitions and criminal cases against political leaders should be disposed of within a certain time frame and, if necessary, special benches of the Supreme Court and high courts should be formed for the matter.
- Emphasised the need for a national policy on having an Upper House in the states.
- It is equally important for the media, an “invaluable partner in strengthening democratic culture”, to focus more on the constructive contribution made by members of the House rather than giving importance to their disruptive activities.
- Consider dispassionately and legislate measures to empower women through reservation in all spheres of public life including legislatures.
- True nationalism means not discriminating against any Indian based on his caste, religion or gender.
- In order to build a more inclusive society, there is a need to move towards ensuring proportional representation of all groups, especially those which have till now been under represented.
- There is a need to cleanse politics, strengthen parliamentary and governance institutions, give a big push to next level of reforms to harness the entrepreneurial and economic potential, harness the energies of young India, and ensure sustainable and remunerative agriculture.
- He also called for upholding the rich traditions of cultural diversity and nationalism.
Significance of code of conduct for MPs and MLAs
- Such reforms will ensure that people do not lose faith in political processes and institutions.
- It will help in achieving success intapping the huge untapped demographic dividend, an effective and enabling ecosystem for remunerative farming in the country, orienting scientific and research efforts to better the lives of the people, and enhancing public awareness about rich Indian heritage and inculcating national pride in “our pluralistic, inclusive, harmonious world view”.
- Genuine debate and discussion can only take place if political representatives take the pains to study different areas of governance.
- A code of conduct that is agreed upon by all parties will elevate public discourse.
- Such a code should also include attendance of representatives in legislatures, especially the nominated members, where many are experts in their fields and their contributions could greatly enrich the discourse in the House.
- Elected representatives hold the key to good, people-centred governance.
- Codifying the rules of the game can only help to fulfill this goal.