The suspension of two Congress members by Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla after unruly scenes in the House has brought back focus on the conduct of MPs, and related issues. Rule 378 of the Rules for the Conduct of Business states: “The Speaker shall preserve order and shall have all powers necessary for the purpose of enforcing own decisions.”
Rule 373 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.”
For recalcitrant members, 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.”
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.”
In January, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan suspended 45 members of Lok Sabha belonging to the TDP and AIADMK after they continuously disrupted proceedings for days. Twenty-four AIADMK members were suspended for five consecutive sittings. A day later, she suspended 21 members of AIADMK and TDP, and an unattached YSR Congress member.
The AIADMK members had repeatedly flung papers towards the Chair. After warning that she would be forced to name them, the Speaker had ultimately invoked Rule 374A, barring the members from attending the House for the remainder of the session.
In February 2014, then Speaker Meira Kumar had 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.
In December 2018, Lok Sabha’s Rules Committee recommended automatic suspension of members who entered the well of the House or wilfully obstructed business by shouting slogans despite being repeatedly warned by the Chair.
However, rules aside, it is often expediency rather than principles, which shapes the stand of a party on the issue. The ruling party of the day invariably insists on the maintenance of discipline, and the opposition on its right to protest. And their positions change when their roles flip.