Proceedings in Rajya Sabha were disrupted on Wednesday as the opposition pressed for a debate on the Gaza situation but the government steadfastly refused saying it could impact upon India’s diplomatic ties with Israel and Palestine.
The government and opposition locked horns over the issue of discussion and cited rules and precedents in the House, while arguing for and against on whether the business once listed can be altered.
The opposition pointed out that the issue had been listed as part of business for the day and should be taken up first.
Members kept citing rules to argue in favour and against the debate for almost two hours during which the House was adjourned a number of times. It was finally adjourned for the day at 3 PM.
Earlier resisting a debate, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said she had come to know late about the listing of the issue in the day’s business and had written to Chairman Hamid Ansari requesting that it should be dropped.
She said, “We have diplomatic ties with both nations. Any discourteous reference to any friendly country can impact our relations with them.”
Swaraj, along with Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu, said the House should take up the debate on Railway Budget till the Chairman’s ruling on her letter came.
Deputy Chairman P J Kurien also said that the House should take up other business till the Chairman’s ruling comes.
The entire opposition refused to budge and insisted that they will not let any other item to be taken up till the issue is resolved.
“We cannot take up the Railway Budget unless the first item is disposed of,” said Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was to speak on the Rail Budget.
“In the larger interest of the country, I urge the House to take up the Railway Budget,” Naidu said amid uproar by opposition.
Swaraj said “this discussion cannot be allowed” and cited rules in this regard asking the Chair to take up the Rail Budget instead. This request evoked a resounding ‘no’ from the opposition benches, who joined hands to corner the government.
Coming to her aid, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said government business gets priority and till Chairman’s decision on the External Affairs Minister’s letter is taken, government business has to be taken up first.
“Railway Budget needs to be taken up first and completed. It is important,” he said.
Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) said this is “not permissible” and cited rules in support of his contention, while Swaraj told him that he should not read the rules in piece meal and rather read them together. She also said the Railway Budget was part of the business listed for the day.
Sukhendu Sekhar Roy (TMC) said he was not aware of the letter written by Swaraj and what its contents were, but said, “there should be sufficient grounds for variation in the list of business”.
Various opposition members cited rules and said once the business is listed even the Chairman has no authority to alter it, saying if done so it will set a bad precedent.
Naidu cited yesterday’s proceedings of the House when the Chair had called for starting the discussion on Railway Budget but the Leader of Opposition said he will speak tomorrow.
Giving his ruling on whether the business of the House can be altered, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien said, “I want the House to help the Chair. I am not disagreeing with what is being said. It is true that this item is listed in the business and that it cannot be changed unilaterally. But the Chair is in an unusually peculiar situation.
“Government has to respond when there is a debate…But, government has written disagreeing on a debate. She (Swaraj) has clearly expressed that she is unable to respond to clarifications/discussion on the issue. The Chair cannot ignore that. The Chair needs more time to give ruling and, therefore, we move to next business,” he said.
Former Law Minister Ashwani Kumar said the business cannot be altered by the Chairman as it is a constitutional power which is to be exercised by him under the rules. “That cannot be eroded at the whims of the government, otherwise it will set an unprecedented and dangerous trend,” he said.
Satyavrat Chaturvedi (Cong) said list of business cannot be changed as it is the property of the House. “Only the sense of the House can alter the list of business. The Chairman has no authority to unilaterally change it,” he said.
He said if the government can hold a discussion in the other House, why not in this House.
At this, Swaraj clarified that there was no discussion in the Lok Sabha and only a notice was given for acceptance and it was disallowed after some members spoke.
Sharad Yadav (JD-U) said country’s prestige will be at stake if the House does not hold a discussion on the matter and it will send a very wrong message.
Kurien, however, said both the sides will have to agree for the discussion and he has verified that a letter has been sent by the External Affairs Minister to the Chairman, which is still under consideration.
Citing rules, Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) said once the issue has been listed in business, even the Chair does not have the authority to change it. “Once listed, it is the property of the House and therefore it cannot be changed,” he said.
Derek O’Brien (TMC) said there should be discussion on the issue as demonstrations have already started in the country. “This is not a quo pro quo. Take up this issue,” he said.
D Raja (CPI) said till the House takes a decision on the issue, it cannot be in order and India cannot remain silent on destructions in West Asia.
P Rajeev (CPI-M) said no discussion on the issue was “an attempt to dilute the dignity of the House and the Chair.”
After the Chair gave the ruling to take up the Railway Budget and said discussion on the Gaza situation would be taken up after a ruling from the Chairman, there was fresh uproar by opposition members who forced the Chair to adjourn the House till 3 PM.
Similar scenes were witnessed when the House re-assembled and the House was adjourned for the day.