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Suspension of 12 MPs for entire Winter Session is worrying

🔴 P D T Achary writes: It relies on broad interpretation of parliamentary procedure, and should bother democratically-minded citizens

Suspended Rajya Sabha MP's protest demanding revocation, during the Winter Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Friday. (PTI Photo)

The sittings of Rajya Sabha are being disrupted every day after the suspension of 12 of its members on the first day of the Winter Session, which began on November 29. These members were suspended because of their alleged involvement in the grave disorder in the House on the last day of the previous session. The motion to suspend the members was moved under Rule 256 of Rajya Sabha’s rules of procedure. This rule provides for the suspension of a member who disregards the authority of the chair or abuses the rules of the council by persistently and willfully obstructing the business of the House. Persistent and willful obstruction of the business of the House is the crux of the offence. When this happens, the chairman may name such a member, which will be immediately followed by a motion for his suspension. Upon the motion being adopted by the House, the member would stand suspended. Suspension can be for a period not exceeding the remainder of the session. This would mean that if the member is suspended on the last day of the session, the period of suspension will be only a day. So, even if a government would like to suspend such a member for a longer period. it would not be possible under the present rule.

An issue that has aroused the curiosity of Parliament watchers is the suspension of these members now for a disorder that took place in the last session. Is it possible under the rule? The only source from which an answer can be found is the rule under which the suspension motion has been passed by the House. There are no precedents to go by.

Every legislature has the power to suspend its members if they cause disorder and obstruct the business of the House. But the rule of suspension is rarely invoked in parliaments in mature democracies. In legislatures, suspension is regarded as a serious punishment. Suspension for a whole session is an extreme punishment.

Whether the present cases of suspension for a disorder that took place in the previous session is right or wrong, that question stood disposed of the moment the House adopted the motion. Unless the House itself revokes the suspension nothing can be done about it. The decision of the House is final.

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However, there is a question of academic interest that arises — whether the existing rules permit such a course of action. For this purpose, we will have to do a little dissecting of Rule 256. It says that the chairman may, if he deems it necessary, name a member who either disregards the authority of the chair or abuses the rules of the House by persistently and willfully obstructing the business of the House. What follows is very important. After naming such a member, the chairman puts forthwith the question of suspension before the House through a motion. Sub Rule 2 of this rule is of very great importance in the context of the main question, namely, whether a member can be suspended in the next session for creating disorder in the previous session. It clearly says no adjournment is allowed, which means the matter of suspension cannot be adjourned to a later period. It needs to be decided then and there. The scheme of the rule is absolutely clear. A member who abuses the rules of the House by persistently and willfully obstructing its business needs to be punished swiftly. No adjournment is allowed at all.

So, from an academic point of view, it can be said that the rule under which the members were suspended does not actually permit it. But the House is supreme in these matters and the chair has absolute powers to interpret the rules. The judiciary has time and again clarified that the House has absolute powers to regulate its internal matters. Suspension of a member is such a matter. The judiciary will intervene only when a patently unconstitutional act is done by the House.

Nevertheless, resorting to a doubtful procedure to suspend MPs for an entire session will continue to bother democratically-minded citizens at a sub-conscious level. The solution to disruptions does not lie in suspension. That is the lesson we should learn from past experience.

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This column first appeared in the print edition on December 10, 2021 under the title ‘A worrying suspension’. The writer is a former secretary-general of the Lok Sabha

First published on: 10-12-2021 at 03:11:14 am
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