Mailonline India
Dalip Singh

The clamour for accountability and transparency that is sweeping the nation has finally come knocking at the doors of the Lok Sabha. The ethics committee on Tuesday will kick start the deliberations on the need to make its MPs declare their business interests. The idea to make the MPs accountable and transparent in the discharge of their parliamentary duties was mooted by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar after she received a representation from an NGO working towards electoral reforms. With the demography of Parliament changing over the years given the fact that more businessmen are being elected to both the Houses, it has become imperative that the MPs declare information regarding any financial interest or other benefits they receive which might influence their professional conduct including his speech or votes. 

It is learnt that the proposal before the 15-member ethics committee, which is headed by Maharastra Congress MP Manikrao Hodlya Gavit, suggests that the Lok Sabha should maintain a Register of Interests. The MPs would be directed to disclose their financial interests, in their profession, other employment, company share holdings, if any, gifts and hospitality received, sponsorships and consultancies, and family members' sources of income, among other things in the register. Once these checks and balances are in place, it will bar MPs from becoming members of parliamentary committees that undertake subjects where they have business, financial, personal or direct interests. 

There are many democratic countries throughout the world that have proviso for declaring business interests. The Rajya Sabha already has in place this code of conduct for its MPs since 2006. But, the House of Elders has not made it mandatory for every MP to declare their business interests. The Rajya Sabha MPs are supposed to declare their remunerative directorship, shareholding, paid consultancy and other engagements which get them material benefits, apart from their profession. Surprisingly, many Rajya Sabha MPs were able to find a place on parliamentary committees, despite having a conflict of interest, according to the Register of Interests maintained by the House. According to information revealed in 2011 through an RTI application moved by NGO Association for Democratic Reforms, at least five MPs were part of the standing committee on finance despite having business interests. Among them were Vijay Darda, Y.P. Trivedi, pharmaceutical baron Mahendra Prasad, liquor distributor Sambasiva Rayapati Rao and Nishikant Dubey. 

It was also revealed that of the 232 Rajya Sabha MPs, 140 had declared that they had no financial interest. The remaining 92 MPs had declared their interests in the register. However, there is no mechanism to crosscheck the information disclosed or held back, which is why many MPs get away. For instance, a few years back an MP did not disclose that she was advocating for buying a product through an advertisement and was simultaneously on a parliamentary committee that would take up a similar topic. Earlier, Jairam Ramesh, during his stint as environment minister, had blown the whistle by writing letters to presiding officers of both the Houses, seeking restrain on MPs' unethical behaviour. Ramesh, who is now rural development minister, had said the MPs were lobbying for companies' interest or environment projects' clearances. 

Though the matters were referred to ethics committees of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha for suggestions on possible action, Ramesh, intriguingly, did a Uturn requesting the matter be treated as closed. 

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