'Parliamentarianism' of Somnath Chatterjee

August 16, 2018
10 months

What is the issue?

  • Somnath Chatterjee who formerly held the office of Speaker in 14th Lok Sabha passed away recently.
  • The contributions made by him to the parliamentary practices in Indian democracy are worth remembering.

What are the noteworthy contributions?

  • Telecast - His tenure was replete with people-centric parliamentary innovations.
  • He wanted to extend the visitors’ gallery of Parliament to every household in the country.  
  • It began with the live telecast of the “zero hour” proceedings.
  • He personally monitored the evolution of the Lok Sabha television channel.
  • It is the world’s first 24×7 TV channel to be owned and operated by Parliament.
  • Its purpose is to inform people of the goings-on in Parliament on a real time basis.
  • Knowledge - He opened up the rich Parliament Library to researchers and media persons.
  • A new museum and children’s corner in the Parliament Library building was created.
  • A parliamentary fora on diverse subjects was set up and a lecture series was introduced.
  • This was to equip the members with knowledge on emerging trends.
  • The institution of parliamentary research fellowships, Hiren Mukherjee Memorial Lecture were some of the many initiatives under his leadership.
  • Legislature - The dearest to Chatterjee was the principle of accountability.
  • Also, the constitutionally-guaranteed supremacy of the legislature in its own sphere.
  • His noteworthy bold steps in parliament in this regard include -
  1. enhancing the number of Standing Committees for improved oversight
  2. directions for the compulsory presentation of action taken on Standing Committee reports
  3. admission of probably the highest number of calling attention notices
  4. his insistence on short discussions and adjournment motions
  • Parliamentary diplomacy - This is another innovation that took shape under his leadership.
  • Visits by Indian parliamentary delegations abroad were encouraged.
  • This was done in alignment with the country's foreign policy orientation and significantly benefitted India.
  • E.g. India's election to the position of Chairman of the Executive Committee of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
  • Judiciary - He held the judiciary in the highest esteem.
  • He did question the constitutional validity of judicial orders regarding the conduct of the floor test in the hung Jharkhand legislature.
  • However, his advice to the people who mattered was to honour the order of the Supreme Court.
  • He emphasised the dignity of all institutions, including the judiciary.
  • Decisions - He has disposed of, a record number of Tenth Schedule (anti-defection) matters in the shortest possible time, in a fair and judicious manner.
  • Not one of his many quasi-judicial pronouncements was ever challenged.
  • The orders passed by him have set benchmarks in the adjudication of anti-defection matters.
  • The events and achievements, and the debates generated during his period shall guide leaders in all institutions.
  • It is undeniable that Somnath Chatterjee has been one of India’s brightest and the most outstanding parliamentarians.


Source: Indian Express

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