It is indeed an honour for me to welcome the Distinguished Delegates and Guests who have assembled here to participate in the 22nd Annual Commonwealth Parliamentary Seminar. On behalf of the people and Parliament of India and on my own behalf, I extend my greetings and warm wishes to each one of you. I hope your stay in India will be extremely pleasant, stimulating and enriching.
I am delighted to have Dr. William F. Shija amidst us under whose dynamic stewardship the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has been striving to nurture and foster democracy in the Commonwealth countries. I compliment the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association for their initiative in organizing this 22nd Annual Commonwealth Parliamentary Seminar together with Parliament of India. These Seminars bring Parliamentarians on a common platform to appreciate and understand the emerging challenges before democratic governments and define the roles and responsibilities of the parliamentary institutions in addressing them.
Parliamentary democracy is undoubtedly the most accepted, successful and ideal form of political system. It is perceived as the best form of governance to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of the people. In this Seminar, we will deliberate and discuss various topics of parliamentary interest including the role of the CPA in the Commonwealth in fourteen sessions to be held over a period of three days. I am confident that this Seminar will help reinforce the representative character of parliamentary community in the Commonwealth.
Democratic institutions have flourished in India since time immemorial. After Independence, we have adopted this well proven form of governance to fulfill the dreams of our people. As the political nerve center of the largest democracy in the world, the two chambers of our Parliament reflect the sovereign will of the people of India. On it lies the onerous responsibility of transforming mindsets and creating an equitable and inclusive social order free of all forms of discrimination. Friends our Parliament does not merely legislate, it is an agent of social change. In the session devoted to the theme ‘Parliamentary and Political Scene in India’ the participants will have an insight into the operational dynamics of the Indian polity.
The Office of Presiding Officer occupies a key position in parliamentary democracy and is vital for the efficient and systematic transaction of business in the House. This institution represents the collective voice and opinion of the House and therefore remains crucial in maintaining people’s faith in democratic institutions. By performing administrative, judicial, regulatory and supervisory functions, the Presiding Officer not only guides the proceedings but also safeguards the rights and privileges of the House, its Committees and its Members. It is, therefore, imperative to delve into the changing dimensions of the interface between Presiding Officers and various aspects of the functioning of the Chambers presided over by them. In this context, the discussion on ‘The Role of the Presiding Officers vis-à-vis the Parliamentary Staff and the Standing Orders’ during this Seminar is a timely initiative.
In the contemporary parliamentary system, Committees have emerged as the best suited device for detailed scrutiny of administrative action and for ensuring executive accountability to the institution of Parliament. The Indian Parliament has three Financial Committees and twenty four Departmentally related committees apart from several other committees. These committees are vested with adequate powers and operate as sentinels of accountability. The unprecedented growth in the range, magnitude and complexity of governmental activities over the years, warrants further reinforcing of the Committee system in Parliaments to make them more meaningful and effective. By exchanging the experiences of our respective Parliaments, we can evolve ways and means to further enhance the efficacy of our Parliamentary Committees.
Ethics, transparency and accountability are basic attributes of public life. People expect their elected representatives to adhere to highest standards of ethical and moral values in the discharge of their public duties. However, a general deficit in peoples’ faith in the hallowed institution of Parliament is being witnessed the world over. As elected representatives, it is our responsibility to restore and strengthen people’s trust and confidence in democratic institutions and processes. The culture of ethical growth, self-correction and uprightness must emanate from our representative institutions. We must evolve self-disciplining mechanisms to ensure probity, values, ethics and transparency in the public life. The discussion session on ‘Parliamentary Ethics, Transparency and Accountability’ will provide us an opportunity for self-introspection.
Our Parliaments reflect the hopes and aspirations of the people and are mandated to strive for their well-being and advancement. They are in a unique position to influence government decisions and mould public opinion for ensuring prosperity, peace, harmony and development. Freedom of knowledge and Right to Information are the keystones of parliamentary democracy. In this globalized era, it is of paramount importance that Parliaments take the lead in disseminating information about their activities and enhance transparency in the functioning of the executive. The Right to Information Act enacted by Indian Parliament not only empowers the people and but also ensures transparency in public institutions. The issues involved in creating an enabling environment for further advancing the cause of the people’s right to information will be discussed during this Seminar which will generate ideas to further fine-tune our existing transparency legislations.
As public expectations from Parliamentarians rise, the role of Parliaments cannot be restricted to the traditionally performed legislative, supervisory and deliberative functions only. Of late, their influence has increased and their work contours expanded to encompass several socio-economic and contemporary issues like gender equality, human rights, HIV/AIDS, terrorism and sustainable development. Parliaments the world over have been consistently engaging themselves on all these vital issues in their endeavour to address the concerns of the people.
I firmly believe that parliamentary democracy cannot survive and flourish unless gender-based discriminatory practices are eradicated from the society. We have to move out of the folds of inequitable and patriarchal social system and conservative patterns of development. Parliaments have to proactively strive to transform social attitudes. Growth and development can never be achieved amidst instances of human-rights violation and discrimination on grounds of gender, race, religion and language. Inclusive, equitable and sustainable growth is the need of the hour. It is, therefore, the prime responsibility of us Parliamentarians to promote gender-empowerment not only by focusing on issues of gender-based discrimination but also by enacting suitable forward looking legislations. This subject, of enormous socio-political importance, will be deliberated upon in this Seminar.
Amidst the expanding roles and responsibilities of the Parliaments and the global dimensions of the challenges before democracies, we Parliamentarians have much to share and learn from one another. The 22nd Annual CPA Seminar, which we are honoured to host, is yet another occasion for Parliamentarians from across the Commonwealth to not only have thought provoking deliberations on issues of common concern but also to build consensus and chart out grounds for co-operation on matters warranting immediate attention from the representative institutions.
I am sure we will have serious introspective discussions and fruitful interactions during this seminar. With these words, I have great pleasure in inaugurating this Seminar.