Over the years, the Conference of Presiding Officers of Legislative Bodies in India has evolved into a forum, keeping pace with the changing profile of Indian Legislatures. Initially, the object of the Conference was to secure "the appropriate co- ordination of parliamentary procedure throughout India." Many revolutionary changes took place since the thirties in the powers and functions of the Legislatures. The aims, objects and scope of the Conference also kept on widening with the democratization of the Legislatures and evolution of responsible Government in the country. This is discernible from the memoranda submitted and the Addresses delivered by the Chairmen of these Conferences from time-to-time.
In September, 1933, Shri Shanmukham Chetty, President of the Central Legislative Assembly, in his memorandum regarding privileges, etc. of Indian Legislatures and members thereof, submitted on behalf of the Conference to the Joint Select Committee of the House of Lords, stated the objects of the Conference as: "The purpose of these Conferences is to co-ordinate, as far as possible, the procedure of all the Indian Legislatures to enable the Presidents to exchange, in full and free confidence, their experiences and the general results of their work in their respective Chairs, and last but not the least, to ensure that parliamentary institutions in British India should develop along the right lines."
In January 1938, Sir Abdur Rahim, President of the Central Legislative Assembly, while addressing the Conference held at New Delhi, stated: "The object of the Conference was to enable them (Presiding Officers) to understand the different points of view and, if possible, to arrive at a sort of understanding as to what would be the right procedure to follow in a given case...If by this Conference they could arrive at a co-ordination of the practice of different Houses it would be all to the good. They should try, as best as they could, to establish sound traditions and sound practices which would help the growth of responsible Government in the country."
After the advent of the Interim Government in 1946, Speaker G.V. Mavalankar in his Address to the Conference held at New Delhi in January, 1947 spoke about the objects thus: "Such Conferences will give us opportunities of pooling resources as also of learning by experience and by exchange of views. They give us an opportunity of personal contacts for comradeship in the service of our country, and will go a great way in enabling us thereby to discharge our responsibilities more efficiently."
A significant change in the aims and scope of the Conference can be observed in the Chairman's Address to the Conference held at Trivandrum in July-August, 1951. As the Chairman said: "The situation, however, changed materially from 1947. Since then we have made the Conference an almost annual event, not only from the point of view of discussing, as before, matters of procedure, but to consider various matters of importance due to the changed political set-up in the country. The Central Legislative Authority now called Parliament became a sovereign body since 15 August, 1947 and this fact brought in its wake various matters of importance relating to not only the democratic set-up or forms but also the very substantial question of the effective control of the Legislature over the Executive."
In an attempt to make the Presiding Officers of the State Legislatures (after the States' reorganization in 1956) understand the relevance of the Conference, Speaker M. Ananthasayanam Ayyangar, while addressing the Conference in October, 1958 at Darjeeling, said: "I have always felt that at our annual Conferences and at other Conferences, we should address ourselves to devising ways and means of spreading the democratic spirit in the country besides addressing ourselves to matters of parliamentary practice and procedure." In his Address to the Conference at Bangalore in 1960, Speaker Ayyangar further elaborated:
Hitherto at our Conference, we had been discussing only points on parliamentary procedure and practice. I feel that we should also discuss some current, topics of general interest with special reference to the working of democracy in our land. I, therefore, suggest that we might make a beginning this time in that regard. So, on the first day, i.e. today we shall not be discussing the procedural points received from various Presiding Officers. Instead we shall have a general discussion on the many points that have arisen inside and outside our country and, in particular, we shall discuss "Groups within parties in the Legislatures and their effect on the work of (a) Legislature, (b) Government, and (c) Administration". For the future Conferences, I would expect you to suggest some general topics in addition to the points on procedural problems, which you may have faced during the year.
Emphasising the role of the Conference to suit the changing needs and circumstances in the wake of External Emergency in India following the Chinese aggression in 1962, Speaker Sardar Hukam Singh, in his Address to the Conference held at Chandigarh in February, 1963, stated:
The Presiding Officers at this moment really have a very responsible part to play during this Emergency. It is a double-fold task. They have to see that parliamentary institutions are maintained and individual liberty also remains intact. In this hour of Emergency, no attacks might be made on the personal rights of the individual as well as of our democratic institutions. We are responsible and we have to see that the decisions that have to be taken are not delayed. They are taken with that speed as is needed during such an Emergency… So we have to see that this democratic machine is adjusted in a way to suit the Emergency, and that speed is adopted which is required for this emergent occasion. We have to see that no obstruction is placed so far as national claims on decisions are concerned. We have to safeguard the interests of the individual as well as the democratic institutions. We have to see that they are maintained even when there is an Emergency in the country.
After the Fourth General Elections in 1967, as floor-crossing by legislators was assuming a serious dimension causing political instability in several States and even threatening to erode people's faith in parliamentary institutions, the Conference took up the matter with utmost seriousness. The 1967 Conference of Presiding Officers while deprecating "crossing of the floor for entirely personal gains", urged the need to evolve proper conventions to stop the same. Since then, the need for evolving effective measures to deal with the problem has repeatedly been stressed upon by the Conference.
Lauding the role of the Conference of Presiding Officers of Legislative Bodies as a pillar of unity in diversity, Dr. G.S. Dhillon, the Chairman of the Conference held in October, 1972 at Madras said:
Since its inception, the Conference has provided a forum for the Presiding Officers of the Legislatures all over the country to discuss matters relating to parliamentary practice and procedure and has thus gone a long way in establishing sound democratic conventions and uniform parliamentary procedure in India. The recommendations and decisions of the Conference, which are in the nature of agreed guidelines, carry great weight with the Presiding Officers and are acted upon by them according to the circumstances obtaining in their respective Houses. Besides, it has enabled the Presiding Officers to develop personal contacts and coordinate their work in the different Legislatures. By holding these Conferences in different State Capitals, it has also promoted a sense of oneness and national unity.
Expressing his views regarding the significance and the scope of the Conference of Presiding Officers of Legislative Bodies as well as the working culture to be followed, Speaker Dr. Bal Ram Jakhar emphasized on the aspect of national consensus at the January, 1981 Conference in Bangalore. In his opinion: "There are many things to commend this institution of ours, foremost among them, in my view, the practice of rotating its venue. Can there be a more natural way of being reminded of the vastness and diversity of our land and our people, and of realising our togetherness as inheritors in common of an ancient and priceless heritage of civilization and culture? And that, in my view, is very important for it reminds us of our responsibility to see that the democratic institutions we have the privilege of serving, subserve the cause of people and sustain and preserve the integrity of our country." He further stated:
This takes us to the crucial role of the Legislature in our day. It has to be the great integrator, bringing together the diverse interests and forces in the society. Above all, it has to show qualities of leadership and concern for resolving the problems of the common man. It is here that the different voices in the country must converge to get blended into national consensus. It is, therefore, very necessary that we cultivate the habit of talking to each other instead of at each other. It has to be an ongoing dialogue carried on with civility and mutual respect observing the rules of courtesy and fair play.
One of the objectives of the Conference is that Legislatures should be as efficient as possible so as to match the demands made on it by the system and the people from time to time. In this context, it is desirable that the procedure, the functioning and the infrastructure facilities available with Legislatures are updated periodically so that the Legislatures may keep pace with the changing times. While presiding over the Conference of Presiding Officers held at Gandhinagar in May, 1992, Speaker Shivraj V. Patil stressed this aspect clearly. He said: "It is a matter of some satisfaction that parliamentary democracy has worked in India nearly successfully and has led us to the path of progress and development. But it has also thrown up some problems. We have to apply our mind as to how best these problems can be solved. In a Conference like this, we can focus on the problems faced by the system and help make it more responsive to the aspirations of the people. If our discussions contribute towards achieving our goals in this regard, the aim of holding such a Conference is fulfilled to a great extent."
The ever broadening scope of the Conference of Presiding Officers may be noticed in the Address by Speaker P.A. Sangma at the 60th Conference in October, 1996 at New Delhi in which he stated: “The Standing Committee of the All India Presiding Officers’ Conference has enabled me to set out an agenda of considerable significance in the present political context of our country. The Conference is to deliberate on orderly conduct of business of Legislature vital for the growth of
democracy, parliamentary surveillance of the Executive through Committee System, relationship with the Press and electronic media, coverage of the proceedings of Legislatures.” As is evident, the themes covered a wide spectrum of issues having a bearing on the functioning of representative institutions in the country.
In the wake of the General Elections held for the Twelfth Lok Sabha resulting in the emergence of 41 political parties in the House, and yet another Coalition Government at the Centre, Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi stressed on the role of the Conference in facilitating the management of contradictions and harmonization of competing interests. While addressing the 62nd Conference in September, 1998 at New Delhi, Speaker Balayogi said: "By now, we have had some significant experience with coalitions at the Centre as well as in the States. Political education comes from experience and this is also a continuous process. The need of the time is to reconcile the interests of stability needed for socio-economic development of our people with the political dynamics inherent in governance through coalition. In the process of this reconciliation, Presiding Officers of Legislative Bodies have to play a crucial role."
It may thus be seen that the Conference has always been fully conscious of its role to adapt to the changing needs of the time.
During the 66th Presiding Officers Conference held in Mumbai in February 2003 Hon’ble Speaker, Lok Sabha Manohar Joshi giving the details of the purposefulness of these Presiding Officers Conference mentioned that “These conferences bring all of us together. We exchange our views. These days particularly it has become more important to hold Conferences because there is a threat to our democracy. We must all stand united. We must have a common purpose. We must have a common design.
Friends, the first and foremost work before us is to save democracy from the atrocities of terrorists and this can be done only by discussions. Democracy is nothing else then discussion and understanding of each other. Therefore, it becomes always necessary that we must come together and we must stand together and we must fight the enemies of democracy. That is exactly what has brought all of us together.”
In the 69th Conference of Presiding Officers held in New Delhi in July 2005 Hon’ble Speaker, Lok Sabha Shri Somnath Chatterjee mentioned that “Since its inception in 1921, over the decades, the Conference of Presiding Officers has evolved into a vibrant and effective forum, keeping pace with the changing needs of our Legislatures and emerging dimensions of our parliamentary polity. To begin with, way back in the 1920s and 1930s, the object of the Conference was essentially to secure the appropriate coordination of parliamentary procedures throughout India. But, especially after Independence, many significant changes have taken place in the powers and functions of the Legislatures and in consonance with that, the aims, objects and scope of the Conference also kept on widening. Today, this is the forum for discussing matters relating not only to parliamentary practices and procedures but also various other issues having a vital significance for our parliamentary democratic system. Our Conferences have gone a long way in establishing sound democratic conventions and parliamentary practices and procedures in our Legislative Bodies.”
Smt. Meira Kumar, Hon’ble Speaker, Lok Sabha in her inaugural address in the 76th Conference of Presiding Officers of Legislative Bodies in India held in Jaipur in September, 2011 emphasized on the objectives of the Conference and mentioned that “Since its inception in 1921, over the decades, the Conference of Presiding Officers has evolved into a lively and powerful forum for debate and discussion, where we meet at regular intervals. The aim of holding such a Conference is to focus on the problem we face while functioning with our system and to help make it more responsive and resilient
to the changing need of the society. Today, this is the forum for discussing matters relating not only to parliamentary practices and procedures but also various other issues having a vital significance for our parliamentary democratic system. Our Conferences have gone a long way in establishing sound democratic conventions and parliamentary practices and procedures in our Legislative Bodies.”