Virendra Kapoor

There is this rule that bars members of Parliament from reading out aloud from prepared texts unless, of course, they are referring to material relevant to the issue on hand.

Ministers fall in a different category. They are not only allowed to read from prepared statements, but, what is more, can table their speeches in the House.

Unfortunately, the rule does not extend the same courtesy to the Leader of the Opposition, though she too enjoys Cabinet minister status. So, poor Sonia Gandhi, the reader-leader of the Congress party, has a huge problem on her hands. She cannot speak extempore for more than a moment or two, while her job demands that speak she must, at least on solemn occasions.

On Monday, February 20, when the Lok Sabha paid rich tributes to Communist Party of India veteran Indrajit Gupta, before adjourning for the day, Sonia was hard put to say a few words without referring to the written text. Every few seconds she turned her gaze downwards in order to complete the sentence. Hers was the briefest tribute to the man whom the Speaker called the 'Father of the House.'

Veteran parliamentary reporters with a ringside view of the proceedings from the press gallery have by now figured out Sonia's way to get round the rule which bars members from reading out their speeches. She comes armed with a text typed in bold letters, which she carries under her shawl. Like she did while making references to the Communist leader.

That could be why on Monday, when most MPs were in shirt sleeves, she chose to sport an expensive shawl though the weather was quite warm.

Wanted: A bungalow for Yusufsaab

Although he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha more than a year ago, Dilip Kumar is yet to be allotted a government bungalow. Some first-time members, normally not entitled to anything bigger than a flat, have somehow managed to occupy large bungalows. The resulting paucity of bungalows in the Rajya Sabha housing pool has meant Yusufsaab does not have an official house.

The thespian wants a Type-VIII bungalow and is willing to wait till one is available. And why not? Actress Shabana Azmi got herself a ministerial bungalow allotted soon after she was nominated a member of the Upper House along with Dilip Kumar.

The only other member of the Rajya Sabha yet to be allotted a house is Rajiv Shukla, elected with the highest margin in last year's biennial election from Uttar Pradesh. My fellow rediff columnist too is waiting for a proper house to fall vacant in the RS housing pool so that the same can be allotted to him.

A suitable boy, indeed

The occasion was the annual R N Malhotra Memorial Lecture. The speaker: Law Minister Arun Jaitley. The topic: Judicial reforms. Presiding over the function: the former chief justice of the Himachal Pradesh high court, Justice Leila Seth, who these days is better known as novelist Vikram Seth's mom.

The well-heeled audience, which brimmed over into the aisles at the India International Centre, heard the minister with rapt attention as he enumerated with aplomb the ills that choked the country's judicial system. Jaitley made out a strong case to weed out frivolous litigation, to club similar cases and to institutionalise steps to reduce delays.

Above all, in addition to systemic reforms, he pleaded for judicial accountability, suggesting that each judge's performance be evaluated annually on the number of cases disposed of by him. The judges heard lots and lots of cases fitfully, he said, but delivered judgments in a woefully small number of them.

At the end of the lecture, when Justice Seth rose to make her remarks, she began by saying that the former Delhi chief executive councillor, Jag Pravesh Chandra, who sat prominently in the audience, had described Jaitley as a "beeva munda" (Punjabi for a good fellow).

"I think the clarity and vision that he has displayed in his lecture in order to reform the judicial system make him a very suitable boy, indeed," the judge quipped. The minister shyly turned his gaze to the ground.

Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh

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