Nineteen opposition members were suspended from Rajya Sabha for a week Tuesday (July 26), provoking Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien to say that the government had turned Parliament into a “deep, dark chamber”.
Seven of O’Brien’s Rajya Sabha colleagues were suspended, along with six MPs from the DMK, three from the TRS, two from the CPM, and one MP from the CPI. The MPs were suspended for “unruly behaviour”.
On November 29 last year, 12 opposition members were suspended in Rajya Sabha on the very first day of the Winter Session for “their unprecedented acts of misconduct, contemptuous, unruly and violent behaviour and intentional attacks on security personnel” on August 11, the last day of the previous Monsoon Session.
Before that, eight Rajya Sabha MPs had been suspended on September 21, 2020 for unruly behaviour in the House the previous day (September 20).
The general principle is that it is the role and duty of the Presiding Officer — Speaker of Lok Sabha and Chairman of Rajya Sabha — to maintain order so that the House can function smoothly. In order to ensure that proceedings are conducted in the proper manner, the Speaker/ Chairman is empowered to force a Member to withdraw from the House.
On Tuesday, opposition MPs who had been protesting since the beginning of the session on July 18, entered the Well, and ignored Deputy Chairman Harivansh’s requests to them to return to their seats. Harivansh asked the Treasury to move a motion for their suspension, and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs V Muraleedharan moved a motion to suspend 10 MPs for the remainder of the week for “misconduct”. Harivansh put the motion to vote, and read out the names of 19 opposition members.
Rule Number 373 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business says: “The Speaker, if he is of the opinion that the conduct of any Member is grossly disorderly, may direct such Member to withdraw immediately from the House, and any Member so ordered to withdraw shall do so forthwith and shall remain absent during the remainder of the day’s sitting.”
To deal with more recalcitrant Members, the Speaker make take recourse to Rules 374 and 374A.
Rule 374 says:
“(1) The Speaker may, if deems it necessary, name a Member who disregards the authority of the Chair or abuses the rules of the House by persistently and wilfully obstructing the business thereof.
“(2) If a Member is so named by the Speaker, the Speaker shall, on a motion being made forthwith put the question that the Member (naming such Member) be suspended from the service of the House for a period not exceeding the remainder of the session: Provided that the House may, at any time, on a motion being made, resolve that such suspension be terminated.
“(3) A member suspended under this rule shall forthwith withdraw from the precincts of the House.”
Rule 374A was incorporated in the Rule Book on December 5, 2001. The intention was to skirt around the necessity of moving and adopting a motion for suspension.
According to Rule 374A: “(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in rules 373 and 374, in the event of grave disorder occasioned by a Member coming into the well of the House or abusing the Rules of the House persistently and wilfully obstructing its business by shouting slogans or otherwise, such Member shall, on being named by the Speaker, stand automatically suspended from the service of the House for five consecutive sittings or the remainder of the session, whichever is less: Provided that the House may, at any time, on a motion being made, resolve that such suspension be terminated.
“(2) On the Speaker announcing the suspension under this rule, the Member shall forthwith withdraw from the precincts of the House.”
It’s largely similar.
Like the Speaker in Lok Sabha, the Chairman of Rajya Sabha is empowered under Rule Number 255 of its Rule Book to “direct any Member whose conduct is in his opinion grossly disorderly to withdraw immediately” from the House.
Under Rule 256, the Chairman may “name a Member who disregards the authority of the Chair or abuses the rules of the Council by persistently and wilfully obstructing” business. In such a situation, the House may adopt a motion suspending the Member from the service of the House for a period not exceeding the remainder of the session.
The House may, by another motion, terminate the suspension.
It is strong action, but it is not uncommon. Suspensions have become more common in recent years, and have taken place every year since 2019. Before the suspensions of July 26, 2022, November 29, 2021, and September 21, 2020 mentioned above, the following actions were taken:
* On March 5, 2020, seven Congress members were suspended from Lok Sabha during the Budget Session of Parliament.
* In November 2019, Speaker Om Birla suspended two Congress members.
* In January 2019, Birla’s predecessor Sumitra Mahajan suspended a total 45 members belonging to the TDP and AIADMK after they continuously disrupted proceedings for days.
* On February 13, 2014, then Speaker Meira Kumar suspended 18 MPs from (undivided) Andhra Pradesh following pandemonium in the House. The suspended MPs were either supporting or opposing the creation of the separate state of Telangana.
* On September 2, 2014, nine members were suspended for five days.
* On August 23, 2013, 12 members were suspended for five days.
* On April 24, 2012, eight members were suspended for four days.
* On March 15, 1989, when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister, as many as 63 members were suspended from Lok Sabha for three days.
Isn’t the barring of an elected representative of the people an extreme step?
Every instance of suspension of an MP triggers strong statements on both sides. It is generally agreed that a balance has to be struck, and that the solution to unruly behaviour has to be long-term and consistent with democratic values.
It has been pointed out that in cases such as these, the ruling party of the day invariably insists on the maintenance of discipline, just as the opposition insists on its right to protest. And their positions often change when their roles flip.