As the heartbeat of India's democracy, Parliament has a storied history that spans 75 years. It's a tale of debates, legislation, and the tireless work done behind the scenes by the women and men of the Parliament Secretariat.
Beyond the statistics and political narratives, this article explores the invaluable contributions of the Secretariat in shaping the Indian parliamentary landscape.
Vithalbhai Patel's Vision: A Separate Secretariat
In 1925, Vithalbhai Patel, the first elected Speaker (then known as President) of the Central Assembly, championed the idea of a separate Secretariat for the legislature. He believed that for the Speaker's office to function independently, it needed a dedicated staff directly under its control.
Patel also advocated for a separate security establishment for the legislature, successfully ensuring that security arrangements fell under the Speaker's authority. This decision proved pivotal, setting the stage for the Secretariat's crucial role in the years to come.
Parliamentary Reporters: The Chroniclers of Democracy
The first group of individuals to join the Secretariat were parliamentary reporters. These unsung heroes are responsible for accurately reporting legislative proceedings. Sitting close to the Presiding Officer's chair, they work tirelessly to make hundreds of pages of speeches, ministerial statements, and chair observations available to the public within hours of a parliamentary sitting.
Their work is mandated by the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha rules of procedure, which require a full report of the proceedings to be published promptly.
M.N. Kaul: The Builder of Modern Secretariat
Maheshwar Nath Kaul, a lawyer who joined the legislative assembly office in 1937, played a pivotal role in professionalising the Secretariat and establishing its standard operating procedures. Rising to become the Secretary of the Constituent Assembly, Kaul shaped constitutional provisions related to legislatures and pushed for the Secretariat's independence.
Post-independence, he initiated Parliament's research and reference service, designed to provide members with essential information for their legislative duties. Kaul's visionary leadership also led to the development of separate buildings for the Secretariat, library, committees, and MPs in 1956, addressing the need for more office space.
A Multilingual Parliament
From the inception of the first Lok Sabha, members clamored for simultaneous interpretation services in the chamber. In 1964, the Secretariat took a significant step by offering real-time interpretation services in Hindi and English. This demanding task required interpreters not only to be well-versed in parliamentary proceedings but also to possess proficiency in vocabulary, grammar, language nuances, literature, idioms, and humour.
Today, the Parliament Secretariat provides MPs with simultaneous interpretation services in an impressive 22 languages, fostering linguistic diversity within the hallowed halls of democracy.
Structuring of Secretariats: A Functional Approach
In 1974, a committee of MPs recommended restructuring the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Secretariats into 11 functional areas, including legislative, library research and information, ad verbatim reporting, editorial and translation, interpretation, and security services, among others.
This organisational overhaul consolidated the approximately 2,200 Lok Sabha and 1,500 Rajya Sabha Secretariat officers into eight services, streamlining their roles and responsibilities.
The Legislative Labyrinth
Although the constitution permits Parliament to make laws regulating the recruitment and conditions of service for Secretariat staff, no such law has been enacted. Instead, these rules are established by the presiding officers of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The Secretaries-General of the two Houses, appointed by the Presiding Officers, play a critical role in guiding and advising the Secretariats.
The Secretary-General serves as the linchpin, offering invaluable counsel to the Presiding Officer in fulfilling their constitutional and statutory responsibilities. The 2009 Parliamentary Pay Committee recognized the Secretary-General's dual role as an advisor to the Presiding Officer and the head of the Secretariat administration, highlighting the pivotal position these individuals occupy within Parliament.
Upholding the Democratic Edifice
In Parliament's 75-year journey, the Parliament Secretariat emerges as its unsung hero. With unwavering dedication, it has facilitated the smooth functioning of the legislature, provided vital support to MPs, and safeguarded the rich parliamentary tradition.
From Vithalbhai Patel's pioneering vision to Maheshwar Nath Kaul's transformative leadership, the Secretariat's contributions have been instrumental in shaping India's democracy. As the custodian of procedure, precedent, and legislative knowledge, the Secretariat remains the indispensable backbone of Parliament, ensuring that the democratic edifice stands tall and strong.