By Dr. Narmadeshwar Prasad [Director, Parliamentary & Administrative Research Institute (PARI)]
Another idea will hold good if the Parliament adopts the principle of ‘the Disruptors Pay’ and levy heavy penalties on the disrupting members and deduct from their salary and allowances.
A near complete washout of the second part of the Budget Session 2018 has raised some alarming issues. Right to be heard in the Parliament is democratic but taking the Parliament to ransom is outright undemocratic.
How have we reached the stage where the Presiding officers of the Parliament viz. the Speaker and the Chairman look on helplessly as few Members of Parliament take the proceedings of the Parliament for a ride for days together? Why did the Presiding Officers not use time-tested mechanisms like ‘withdrawal’, ‘naming’, ‘suspension’, ‘expulsion’ and more to punish the members disrupting the house? What could be their compulsions? What about members who wish to raise matters of genuine public importance but were deprived due to the wash out? Is it not ‘breach of privilege’ of the Houses and the members? Refunding salary as the NDA members reportedly offered, will no way compensate the un-computed social loss incurred due to the delay in passing bills such as the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 or Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2017 which would have been positive for better governance.
The 2010 Winter Session may be considered a watershed as far as ‘washout’ of a session is concerned when the NDA, then in opposition, protested against the 2G scam. The protest was so vehement that the Houses could not be run resulting in very little or no legislative work being transacted in the Parliament. Similar protests were repeated by the UPA in the Monsoon 2015 session and the Winter 2016 session when legislative time lost by Lok Sabha was 54 percent and 82 percent and that of by Rajya Sabha was 91 percent and 80 percent, respectively. The issues included the GST Bill and demonetization. The moot question is can the Indian Parliament be paralyzed by a few agitating members shouting slogans or moving to the ‘well’ of the House. There are established rules of procedure aiding the Presiding Officers in running the Houses– ‘withdrawal’, ‘naming’, ‘suspension’, ‘expulsion’ and more. The application or implementation of these procedures can tide over disruptions, as has been successfully done in the past. Besides it is imperative for the government of the day to walk an extra mile to ease the attrition during the session of the Houses and ensure smooth running of the Houses with the help of presiding officers.
Rules and Procedure
The Chairman, Rajya Sabha has the power to direct any member whose conduct is in his opinion, grossly disorderly to withdraw immediately from the Council. Any member so ordered, shall do so right away and will need to absent himself during the remainder of the day’s meeting. This instrument has been used in the past. There have been, in fact many instances in the Rajya Sabha when members have been directed to withdraw for disorderly behavior. In case of persistence in defiance, the Chairman could invoke the procedure of ‘naming’ the member and the member eventually would withdraw. The Chairman can name a member, following which a motion can be moved and adopted by the House for suspending the member from the service of the House for a period not exceeding the remainder of the session. The House may, however, by another motion terminate the suspension. On 26, 27 August and 2 September 2013, the Deputy Chairman, directed two members to withdraw immediately from the House, who thereafter withdrew.
The same rule applies in the Lok Sabha too. The Rule Number 373 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business states that in case the Speaker is of the opinion that the conduct of any member is “grossly disorderly”, he or she may direct that member to “withdraw immediately from the House”. The member is required to “do so forthwith”, and stay away from the “remainder of the day’s sitting”. The Speaker may also invoke Rule 374A in case of “grave disorder occasioned by a member coming into the well of the House or abusing the Rules of the House, persistently and willfully obstructing its business by shouting slogans or otherwise…”. The member concerned, “on being named by the Speaker, stands automatically suspended from the service of the House for five consecutive sittings or the remainder of the session, whichever is less”. However, in the case of Rajya Sabha a motion has to be sought for suspending a member.
A few instances in Rajya Sabha where members have been suspended are –Shri Godey Murahari suspended for the remainder of the session on 3 September 1962. He was removed by the Marshal of the House. Shri Bhupesh Gupta and Shri Godey Murahari were suspended for the rest of the day on 10 September 1966, which was the last day of the 57th Session of the Rajya Sabha. Two separate motions were moved by the Chief Government Whip (Shri R.S. Doogar). Shri Raj Narain and Shri Godey Murahari were suspended for one week by two separate motions moved on 25 July 1966, by the Leader of the House (Shri M. C. Chagla) and adopted by the House. After they refused to withdraw, they were removed by the Marshal of the House. The latest cases include a motion was moved on 9 March 2010 for suspension of seven members in Rajya Sabha, namely Shri Kamal Akhtar, Shri Veer Pal Singh Yadav, Dr. Ejaz Ali, Shri Sabir Ali, Shri Subhash Prasad Yadav, Shri Amir Alam Khan and Shri Nand Kishore Yadav on the charges of grossly disregarding the authority of the Chair for the remaining part of the session. The motion was adopted by the House. Accordingly, the said members were suspended from the service of the House for the remaining part of the 219th Session, i.e. from 9 March to 7 May 2010. These members were also evicted from the House by the Parliament Security Service on the instructions of the Chair when they refused to leave the House and squatted on its floor and continued to disrupt the proceedings (Rajya Sabha at Work).
In an extreme case of misconduct, the House may expel a member from the House. There have been three instances of expulsion of members of the Rajya Sabha. Shri Subramanian Swamy was expelled on 15 November 1976 on the basis of the Report of the Committee appointed to investigate his conduct and activities. Dr. Chhattrapal Singh Lodha was expelled on 23 December 2005, for his conduct being derogatory to the dignity of the House and inconsistent with the Code of Conduct, consequent on the adoption of a motion by the House agreeing with the recommendation contained in the Seventh Report of the Committee on Ethics. Dr. Swami Sakshi Ji Maharaj was expelled on 21 March 2006, for his gross misconduct which brought the House and its members into disrepute and contravened the Code of Conduct for members of Rajya Sabha
The Speaker, Lok Sabha suspended 16 members for five days on February 13, 2014 as the House had been severely disrupted that day. The suspended members belonged to the Congress, Telugu Desam and YSR Congress. On another occasion on March 15, 1989,as many as 63 members were suspended from the Lok Sabha for three days. On April 24, 2012, eight members were suspended for four days. On August 23, 2013, 12 members were suspended for five days. On September 2, 2014, nine members were suspended for five days.
The above examples clearly show that the Presiding Officers are equipped with enough safeguards which can be used to deal with the unruly members or disruptors. There have been sufficient precedents also to fall back on. On the recent washout in the parliament some members on the condition of anonymity said “Houses are adjourned on slightest provocation and for longer durations and sometimes for the entire day. It seems the Presiding Officers have lost the will to run the House”. Whatever may be the issue, if Presiding Officers are not using the rules and procedures available to them to run the Houses, it may well amount to the dereliction of duty on their part and also this could be interpreted as breach of the Privileges of Members to raise the issues of public importance, which they are denied because the Presiding officers are not utilizing the procedural weapons available to them for bringing order to the Houses. If this continues, the members should approach the Committee on Privileges for intervention.
How Washout is the Breach of Privilege of Houses, Members ?
According to Erskine May, “Parliamentary privilege is the sum of certain rights enjoyed by each House collectively… and by members of each House individually, without which they could not discharge their functions, and which exceed those possessed by other bodies or individuals. “When any of these rights and immunities is disregarded or attacked, the offence is called a breach of privilege and is punishable under the law of Parliament. Each House also claims the right to punish contempts, that is, actions which, while not breaches of any specific privilege, obstruct or impede it in the performance of its functions, or are offences against its authority or dignity, such as disobedience to its legitimate commands or libels upon itself, its members or its officers.” (Erskine, May, Parliamentary Practice, Butterworths, London, 24th Edn., 2011, p. 203).
While defining ‘contempt’ May said “Generally speaking, any act or omission which obstructs or impedes either House of Parliament in the performance of its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any member or officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or which has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results may be treated as a contempt even though there is no precedent of the offence.” ( Ibid., p. 251. 3).
It is clear from the above definitions that whatever happened or allowed to happen in the House obstructed the Members to perform their parliamentary duties individually and the obstructed the House collectively from functioning. An enquiry must be constituted as per the Parliamentary procedure against all those who obstructed the House from performing its duties, and they must be punished as per the Parliamentary Law. The investigation should also include whether the officers of the House could have run the House by invoking certain well established procedural tools viz. withdrawal, naming the member/s, suspension or expulsion of the errant members and what prevented them from invoking these prescribed parliamentary procedures in order to run the House.
Erroneous calculation methodology
The media and the intelligentsia have been calculating the loss of working hours in the Parliament in terms of money. That is not a correct assessment. In fact, there is hardly any additional expenditure incurred during a parliamentary session except that members are entitled for daily allowances for attending the House. I agree with Dr. M.R. Madhvan of PRS Legislative Research when he cites on an online news service that in monetary terms disruption costs are quite insignificant. However, the cost of delay in policy-making is huge and is barely computed. There are bills pending and delays hamper good governance. Further, loss of credibility is incalculable in monetary terms. When the electors see that their representatives disrupting Parliament day in and day out, they start believing that the system is not robust and can be trifled with. This free fall of credibility must be arrested without any delay.
Washout of parliamentary sessions is an ominous sign. The recent case is more worrying because the Presiding Officers have shown undue leniency and this has put them within the ambit of suspicion. Some commentators have openly accused the Speaker, Lok Sabha for dereliction. The Parliament, though convened by the government of the day, is apparently India’s highest sovereign body with complete autonomy. But the recent situation puts a huge question mark on the functioning of the parliamentary officers. Non-invocation of the procedural tools by the Presiding Officers is inexplicable. This may have actually emboldened the disruptors to take the Parliament for ransom in the recent years. The Parliament perhaps needs to adopt the principle of ‘the disruptors pay’ on the lines of ‘the polluters pay’. A hefty penalty over several lakhs can be slapped on the disrupting member for loss of a substantive part of the proceedings. The penalty bills to be raised against the member/s should be deducted from their salary and allowances bills. Thus, monetary penalty coupled with use of procedural tools and strong will of the presiding officers to run the Houses may revive some faith in the Parliament. However, the option to invoke the issue of breach of privileges of the Houses collectively and Members individually with the Committee on Privileges rests with any member of parliament who could raise the matters related to his constituency or matter of national importance.
The Author is Founder Director, Parliamentary & Administrative Research Institute (PARI), Bhicaji Cama Bhawan, New Delhi.