Vice-President and Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu on Saturday said that disrupting parliamentary proceedings amount to contempt of the House and it cannot be claimed as a privilege by errant members.
This is the first time that a presiding officer of any legislature in the country has taken a public position on the issue of disruptions in the Parliament.
Delivering the second Ram Jethmalani Memorial Lecture on “Is disruption of parliamentary proceedings an MP’s privilege and/or a facet of parliamentary democracy?” virtually, Naidu said, “Disruption of the proceedings is a certain negation of the spirit and the intention behind the rules of the House, the code of conduct and the parliamentary etiquette and the scheme of parliamentary privileges, all aimed at enabling effective performance of individual members and the House collectively. Given the consequences, disruption of proceedings clearly amounts to contempt of the House, by the logic of which disruption cannot be claimed as a privilege by errant members.”
The Vice President, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu delivering the second Ram Jethmalani Memorial Lecture on the theme ‘Is disruption of Parliamentary proceedings an MP’s privilege and/or a facet of Parliamentary democracy?’ #RamJethmalani pic.twitter.com/vqBej0KjsK
— Vice President of India (@VPSecretariat) September 18, 2021
Naidu referred to the recently concluded Monsoon Session of Parliament, which ended two days ahead of schedule. During the session, an emotional Naidu had expressed anguish over the disruptions and had said that he had spent a sleepless night due to incidents which had taken place inside Parliament.
Naidu’s statement comes days after Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla said that unparliamentary behaviour on display by public representatives have tarnished the image of democratic institutions, and MPs and MLAs should be aware that their privileges come with responsibilities.
According to PRS Legislative Research data, the Monsoon Session was the third least productive Lok Sabha session in the last two decades, with productivity of just 21 per cent. Rajya Sabha logged a productivity of 28 per cent, its eighth least productive Session since 1999.
In his lecture, Naidu said that the productivity of Rajya Sabha has been quantified since 1978. During the first 19 years till 1996, the productivity of the House has been over 100 per cent, but it has begun to decline since then.
While the House clocked an annual productivity of over 100 per cent during 16 out of these 19 years, it was so only in two years — in 1998 and 2009 — that it clocked 100 percent productivity in the preceding 24 years. Rajya Sabha has not clocked 100 percent productivity even once in the past 12 years.
Naidu further said that the productivity of Rajya Sabha during 2004-14 has been about 78 per cent, and has declined to about 65% since then. Of the 11 sessions that Naidu presided over, four of them clocked low productivity of 6.80%, 27.30%, 28.90% and 29.55%. In 2018, the Rajya Sabha recorded the lowest ever productivity of 35.75% due to disruptions, he said.
“The overall productivity of the two sessions held during 2021 has further dipped to 63.85%. During the last Monsoon Session (the 254th), the Rajya Sabha has lost more than 70% of the scheduled time, including 77% of the valuable Question Hour time. Question Hour is an important instrument of seeking accountability of the executive for implementation of the government’s policies and programmes and pinning down the executive on the lapses thereof. During the last six years, over 60% of the valuable Question Hour time has been lost due to disruptions. This state of affairs justifies the growing concern over persistent disruptions,’’ said Naidu.
Since the Rajya Sabha came into being in 1952, only 10 members have been suspended for misconduct inside the House during the first 57 years while 18 were so suspended in the last 11 years, including 9 in the last one year, he said.
Pointing to the norms of conduct for members, Naidu said that Rule 235 of the Rajya Sabha clearly stipulates members shall not obstruct the proceedings of the House and interrupt members while speaking by disorderly expression or noises or in any other disorderly manner, and shall maintain silence while not speaking in the Council.
“Rule 243 requires that the Chairman whenever he rises shall be heard in silence and any member who is speaking or offering to speak shall immediately sit down. But these rules are being violated too often. The 14-point Framework of Code of Conduct recommended by the Ethics Committee of Rajya Sabha and adopted by the House on December 15, 1999, requires that members must not do anything that brings disrepute to the Parliament and affects its
credibility. The question is whether disruptions enhance the reputation of the Parliament. Certainly not,’’ he said, adding that the 42-point parliamentary etiquette, which the members are required to follow, are constantly violated.
Referring to the privileges granted to the members like the freedom of speech in the House, immunity from any action for anything said or vote given in the House or its committees, and freedom from arrest and liability to court proceedings, the Chairman said such privileges
were available only in so far as they were necessary for the House to freely perform its functions, and raise “concerns of their constituents fearlessly’’.
On the consequences of disruptions, Naidu said that they derail the scheduled business of the House, deprive other members willing and identified to participate in various proceedings of the day, and delay the course of law-making. The socio-economic consequences of defective
and delayed laws resulting from such disruptions are quite substantial, he said.
Calling disruptions a matter of serious concern, Naidu said, “Both the Houses of Parliament have passed resolutions on the occasion of Golden Jubilee of Independence in 1997 and on the occasion of 60 years of the first sitting of Parliament in 2012, which inter alia required the
members not to disrupt Question Hour; not to enter the well of the Houses; to uphold and maintain the dignity, sanctity and supremacy of Parliament. But those solemn commitments are being followed more in violation leading to widespread public concern…”
He added, “MPs have the right to protest against the perceived omissions and commissions of the government of the day. But it should be done in a civil manner without rendering the legislature dysfunctional. The executive can be taken to task during the debates through effective interventions; protesting members can either talk it out or walk out; reach out to the media and people highlighting their grievances, etc.’’