Parliament: 87% MPs Used 24-Hour Phone Hotline Research Help

New Delhi: No one tells you this, but for many first term MPs, and those without extensive secretarial teams, to be asked to speak in Parliament on policy issues with data and perspective is a daunting task. Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, who was elected to the post in his second term as MP, kept this in mind to set up a 24-hour research reference telephone hotline for Members of Parliament, as well as a reference section for legislations.

According to officials, the Parliamentary Research and Information Support for Members of Parliament (PRISM) is a round the clock service and also available on weekends during Parliament Sessions. “A team of 30-32 officers serve on the hotline on a rotational basis,” said an official.

Between 2019 to 2023, 87% of MPs have used either online or offline reference services, which are also shared by WhatsApp and email if required. The largest number of enquiries were about the Bills like the Juvenile Justice Bill, Wildlife Protection Bill and short duration discussions on climate change, drug abuse and price rise.

In total, both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs got help with offline references about 17,493 times and online references numbered 3,393.

Starting with the “Chit Fund Amendment Bill, 2019”, where 87 MPs attended, Speaker Birla also initiated briefings on Bills being discussed by both Houses of Parliament, and till date 79 such sessions have been held.

“When we first stepped into the Parliament, the place was strange, and several senior MPs used to be repeatedly speak on Bills etc. But after that it was decided by the BJP at least, that first term MPs will be asked to speak on Bills, whatever their competency. Many of us didn’t research help in our staff, and this service has proved invaluable,” said Lok Sabha Speaker Birla. MP from Odisha Pramila Bisoi in fact called officials who knew Odia to specifically help the MP as she knew neither English nor Hindi and wanted to speak on the issue of loss of livelihoods during COVID pandemic.

Parliament often breaks into little cliques and clubs as the years of the term go by, with friendships and clashes along and across party lines, but the major work of an MP — debating policy and politics – is often only learnt through experience, with backbenchers spending much time in oblivion. A little help in research and reference can make these years on the backbench productive.