Print Friendly, PDF & Email

EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : House rules and the weapon of expunction

 

Source: The Hindu

  • Prelims: Parliamentary democracy, functions of whip, house rules, article 105, rule 353(Lok Sabha), parliamentary committees etc
  • Mains GS Paper II: Parliament-Structure, organization, functioning and conduct of business etc

 

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS

  • The expunction of portions of the speeches made by Opposition politicians in Parliament recently has sparked off a debate on an action taken by the Speaker and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.

 

INSIGHTS ON THE ISSUE

Context

Parliament:

  • Parliament is the most important symbol of Indian democracy.
  • It is through summoning the House and calling MPs to participate in legislative and other business through:
    • discussion, debates, committee dispensations, and other mechanisms
  • Parliament enables the citizens of the country: through their representatives, to participate in decision-making and hold the government to account.

 

Motion of Thanks to the President of India:

  • This is customary practice.
  • The Constitution does not provide for any such motion, except direct that each House shall discuss the matters contained in the address.
  • This is a practice adopted from the British Parliament.
  • When such a motion is discussed, MPs are generally permitted to speak on anything under the sun.
  • It is an occasion to point out lapses on the government’s part
    • Discuss the gamut of issues that concern the governance of the country.
  • MPs have the right to critically scrutinize the performance of the government.
  • Accountability to Parliament requires the government to respond adequately to the questions raised by MPs in the debate.
  • Under the Rules of the House: It is the Prime Minister who replies to the debate in both Houses.

 

The rules that are in place:

  • Article 105 of the Constitution confers on members, freedom of speech in the House and immunity from interference by the court for anything said in the House.
  • Rule 380 of the Rules of procedure of the Lok Sabha and Rule 261 of the Rules of the Rajya Sabha give the power to the presiding officers of these Houses to expunge any words used in the debate which are defamatory, unparliamentary, undignified or indecent.
    • Once expunged they do not remain on record.
    • If anyone publishes them thereafter, they will be liable for breach of privilege of the House.
  • Rule 353 of the Lok Sabha regulates the procedure in that regard.
    • MPs are required to give “adequate advance notice” to the Speaker as well as the Minister concerned.
  • Rule does not prohibit the making of any allegation.
    • The only requirement is advance notice: Minister concerned will conduct an inquiry into the allegation
      • The allegation which necessitates advance notice, is of a defamatory or incriminatory nature.
      • If the allegation is neither defamatory nor incriminatory, the above rule would have no application.
    • The rule does not apply to an allegation against a Minister in the government.
    • The Council of Ministers is accountable to Parliament, the Members of the House have the right to question Ministers and make imputations against their conduct as Ministers.

 

Procedure while making an allegation against a Minister:

  • Such a procedure has been laid down by Speakers in the past.
  • Making an allegation against a Minister or the Prime Minister: The MP who makes an imputation against a Minister of the government should be sure about the factual basis of the allegation, and that he must take responsibility for it.
  • If the MP complies with this stipulation, then the allegation will be allowed to remain on record.

 

Two rulings made by the Speakers on some occasions:

  1. On September 2, 1965 Prakash Vir Shastri, MP, made personal allegations against Humayun Kabir, the then Minister for Education:
  • Mere report in a newspaper about anything does not give you the privilege to raise it in the House.
    • That is not a sufficient basis for a member to make an allegation against a Minister, member or other dignitaries.
    • It is necessary to probe it further and satisfy oneself about it.
  1. On December 21 1981 in the Lok Sabha, Bapusaheb Parulekar, MP, made a reference to an allegation against the then Railway Minister, Kedar Pande:
  • The Deputy Speaker: The member should, before making an allegation in the House, satisfy himself after making enquiries that there is a basis for the allegation.
    • The member should be prepared to accept the responsibility for the allegation
    • The member should be prepared to substantiate the allegation.”

 

Features:

 

Way Forward

  • A careful reading of the Rules of the House would reveal that the axe of expunction can be wielded only when the allegations mentioned therein are of defamatory or incriminatory character.
  • Under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code (Second exception), Any statement respecting the conduct of a public servant in the discharge of his public function or his character (so far as his character appears in that conduct) is not defamation.
    • If such a statement is made in the House against a Minister who is a public servant, it does not come within the ‘mischief’ of Rule 353 or Rule 380.
  • Before the weapon of expunction is wielded: It needs to be ascertained whether the speech contains defamatory or incriminatory statements or only critical comments (which a Member of Parliament has the right to make).
  • It also needs to be ensured that the freedom of speech enjoyed by the Members in the House is not needlessly curtailed.

 

QUESTION FOR PRACTICE

To what extent, in your view, the Parliament is able to ensure accountability of the executive in India?(UPSC 2021) (200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)