If his first seven days in office are any indication, the Lok Sabha’s new Speaker Om Birla doesn’t believe in business as usual. Birla has already introduced major changes in the functioning of the House, where proceedings in the past many years had been marred by repeated interruptions and adjournments.
Unlike his predecessors, Birla has started sitting through long hours of the proceedings and often delays lunch to allow more first-time MPs to raise matters of importance. He has also handled disruptions adeptly so far, giving no sign of buckling under pressure.
He has also set a personal record of sorts, becoming the first Speaker to use chaste Hindi in all his conversations inside the House while having no qualms about members talking in their own preferred language. Experts say this is a big shift; for ages, Lok Sabha speakers have preferred to communicate in English. He hasn’t even uttered the words “Aye” and “No” while addressing members taking part in a voice vote on a Bill or a parliamentary motion. It’s always “Haan ke paksh mein” and “Naa ke paksh mein” (in support of yes or no). The new Speaker was elected on June 19 and on Thursday, he completed his first seven days in office after setting the tone for how the House may run over the next five years.
On Wednesday, Birla allowed first-time MPs more time to raise important issues by extending the Zero Hour (a span of 60 minutes given to MPs to raise issues) and pushed back the lunch hour to 2.30 pm. All the while, he sat through the proceedings himself. Even Opposition MPs couldn’t help but praise his attitude. Trinamool Congress leader Saugata Ray said: “You have forgotten your hunger pangs to give younger members a chance to speak. You are an example of how business should be conducted.”
A day after getting elected unanimously, in his first meeting with senior floor leaders of different parties, Birla made it clear that he wants to give a chance to more people to raise issues during Question Hour. He suggested that questions be kept short and crisp and the answers to-the-point.
Lok Sabha is discussing around eight questions every day—higher than the previous average of 4.5 in the last five years. On Wednesday, 84 MPs raised issues in Zero Hour— the highest so far.
In his first seven days, Birla didn’t use a single English word in House. “He is very well conversant in English. But the use of Hindi can help in reaching out to a wider audience. But while he sticks to Hindi, he has never asked any member to speak in Hindi,” said a senior official of the Lok Sabha on condition of anonymity. “Hon’ble MPs” are addressed as “Mananiya Sadasy-gan”, an adjournment motion has become “sthagan prastav” and Zero Hour is called “Shunya Kaal”.