With the logjam in Rajya Sabha drawing widespread criticism and the winter session nearing its end, Vice President Hamid Ansari, who is chairman of the Upper House, is seeking more powers to act against errant members.
On Thursday, Ansari urged the Rules Committee of the House to meet and frame new rules similar to the Lok Sabha, allowing the presiding officer to throw out members disrupting proceedings.
Sources in Ansari’s office said he may call a meeting of the general purposes committee (GPC) of the Rajya Sabha next week to discuss the new rule. The GPC is attended by leaders of all political parties and the Vice President wants them on board before the issue is taken up by the Rules Committee, sources said.
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Ansari’s plea came on the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi met him. On Wednesday, there was a brief exchange between Deputy Chairman P J Kurien and Trinamool Congress member Sukhendu Sekhar Roy in which the latter accused the chair of running the House “on assurances and not rules”. In an interview to The Indian Express later, Roy voiced disappointment over the chair’s inability to run the House and the fact that one party is holding the entire House to ransom.
Following the meeting of the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) Thursday, Ansari told MPs that the continuous logjam in the Upper House is reflecting poorly on the chair and the message that is going out is that the presiding officers of the House are incapable of running it.
Rajya Sabha rules do not give the chair the kind of powers enjoyed by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha to suspend unruly members. The only option available to the chair is to name a member that would automatically suspend him or her for the day. For more members to be suspended, the government or any other member has to bring a motion which would then need to be passed in the House.
In the Lok Sabha, Rule 370 allows the Speaker to suspend more than one member for a specified duration of time — it was invoked during the monsoon session this year when 25 Congress MPs were suspended for five days.
Ansari urged the Rules Committee to frame rules that empower the chair to take action against members. At this, MPs pointed out that before a formal a meeting is called, it will be good if each political party is asked to submit its suggestions about such a new rule in writing to the committee so that there is clarity about who stands where and the kind of powers that the chair should get for acting against MPs.
Sources in the Vice President’s office say this is not the first time that he has sought more powers to act against disrupting members. On April 8, 2010, he had attempted to get a rule similar to 374A of the Lok Sabha rules incorporated in the Rajya Sabha rules.
The rule lays down that any member who comes to the well of the House will be automatically suspended. “The matter was then discussed in the Rules Committee but parties ruled against it. He subsequently tried to take it up in the GPC but that did not work either because all parties took the position that such a rule is not required in the Upper House. Currently, the chairman can only name one member at a time or wait for someone to bring a motion under Rule 256 for suspension of more than one member as had happened at the time of discussion on the women’s reservation Bill when seven members were suspended after the motion was passed in the House. The Vice President may call a meeting of the GPC next week to discuss the introduction of a new rule,” sources said.
Rule 255 of Rajya Sabha says: “Chairman may direct any member whose conduct in his opinion is grossly disorderly to withdraw immediately from the council and any member so ordered to withdraw shall do so forthwith and shall absent himself during remainder of the day’s meeting.” The Rule was invoked exactly a year ago to suspend Congress MP V Hanumantha Rao for a day.