Eight Rajya Sabha MPs were suspended on Monday (September 21) for unruly behaviour in the House the previous day (September 20). The motion was passed by a voice vote.
The government moved a motion seeking the suspension of Derek O’Brien (TMC), Sanjay Singh (AAP), Rajeev Satav (Congress), K K Ragesh (CPM), Syed Nazir Hussain (Congress), Ripun Boren (Congress), Dola Sen (TMC) and Elamaram Kareem (CPM).
After the motion was adopted, Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu asked the MPs to leave the House. The suspended members initially refused to leave, and then sat on a dharna outside Parliament. The Opposition sharply criticised the suspension of the MPs.
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. The suspension of the eight members comes a day after the Upper House witnessed massive unruly scenes by protesting Opposition members during the passage of two farm Bills.
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.
Rule Number 373 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business says: “The Speaker, if 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, with one important difference.
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.
Unlike the Speaker, however, the Rajya Sabha Chairman does not have the power to suspend a Member. The House may, by another motion, terminate the suspension.
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.
On Monday, Chairman Venkaiah Naidu named all the eight Opposition MPs. He said he was “deeply pained” at what had happened in the House on September 20. “All social distancing and Covid protocols were violated. Whatever happened, defied logic. It was a bad day for the Rajya Sabha. The Deputy Chairman (Harivansh) was physically threatened. I was worried for his physical well-being.”
It is strong action, but it is not uncommon.
* On March 5 this year, seven Congress members — Gaurav Gogoi (Kaliabor), T N Prathapan (Thrissur), Dean Kuriakose (Idukki), Rajmohan Unnithan (Kasaragod), Manickam Tagore (Virudhunagar), Benny Behanan (Chalakudy) and Gurjeet Singh Aujla (Amritsar) — 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 in the Speaker’s Chair, 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.
* Before that, on September 2, 2014, nine Members were suspended for five days.
* On August 23, 2013, 12 Members were suspended for five days.
* And 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.
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The Opposition members have accused the government of “murdering democracy”. Every instance of suspension of an MP triggers strong statements on both sides.
In general, a balance has to be struck. There can be no question that the enforcement of the supreme authority of the Presiding Officer is essential for smooth conduct of proceedings. However, it must be remembered that the job of the Presiding Officer is to run the House, not to lord over it.
The solution to unruly behaviour has to be long-term and consistent with democratic values. A previous Speaker had ordered that television cameras be focussed on the demonstrating members, so that people could see for themselves how their representatives were behaving in the House.
In the present case, however, the Opposition has accused the Chairman of stopping the telecast of the proceedings in Rajya Sabha.
What cannot be denied is that Speaker’s/Chairman’s actions are often dictated more by expediency and the stand of the party that they belong to, rather than by the Rules and principles.
So, 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 change when their roles flip.