Suspension of MPs in Parliament – Explained Pointwise

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49 opposition MPs, who had been pushing for a discussion regarding a breach of security in the Parliament on December 13, were barred from the legislature recently for allegedly causing disruptions during House proceedings. This move followed the suspension of 78 opposition MPs from the crucial Winter Session of Parliament the previous day. The total count of suspended lawmakers has reached 141, comprising 95 from the Lower House (Lok Sabha) and 46 from the Upper House (Rajya Sabha). This has raised concerns over the state of democracy in India.

Parliament Building

What is the Process of Suspension of MPs?

General Principle: 

The general principle is that it is the duty of the Presiding OfficerSpeaker of Lok Sabha and Chairman of Rajya Sabha — to maintain order so that the House can function smoothly.
To ensure that proceedings are conducted in a proper manner, the Speaker/ Chairman is empowered to force a member to withdraw from the House. 

Terms of Suspension:

a. The maximum period of suspension is for the remainder of the session (However, the House at any point of time can reinstate a suspended member by passing a motion).
b. Suspended members cannot enter the chamber or attend the meetings of the committees.
c. He/she will not be eligible to give notice for discussion or submission.
d. He/she loses the right to get a reply to his questions.
 

Grounds for termination:

The grounds for termination are covered under the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of the House. This includes-
1. In the opinion of the Chairman, the conduct is grossly disorderly.
2. Disregards the authority of the Chair or abuses the rules of the House by persistently and willfully obstructing” business.

Why is the Provision for Suspension of MPs Required?

1) Violation of Parliamentary Rules: The provision allows for the suspension of members who violate the established rules and norms of conduct within the house. This includes disrupting proceedings, disregarding the authority of the chair, using unparliamentary language, etc. 

2) Maintaining Order in the House: The provision for suspension is intended to maintain the dignity, decorum, and smooth functioning of the parliament.

3) Disruption of Proceedings: Continuously disrupting the normal functioning of the house by shouting slogans, staging protests, obstructing debates prevents the house from conducting its business.
As per the PRS, the 16th Lok Sabha (2014-19) lost 16% of its scheduled time to disruptions. 

4) Financial cost of disruption: The cost of running Parliament is about Rs 2.5 lakh per minute. Any disruption in its functioning not only affects its efficiency but also has a monetary cost attached.

5) Refusal to Obey the Speaker/ Chairperson: Disregarding the authority of the Speaker/Chairperson by refusing to comply with their directions or orders during the proceedings and impacts its dignity.

6) Maintaining Parliamentary Etiquette: MPs are required to adhere to certain rules of parliamentary etiquette. For example, the Lok Sabha rulebook specifies that MPs are not to interrupt the speech of others. But untoward behaviour by MPs such as shouting slogans and displaying placards adversely impacts India’s democratic credibility.

7) Clearing Logjam in the House: The rules are meant to clear obstruction in the House so that business can be conducted without obstruction 

What are the Issues Associated with Suspension of MPs?

1) Convention of Suspension as a Last Resort not followed: Suspension is usually resorted to as a last step. However, it is being used rampantly.

2) Suspension on Unprecedented Grounds: Some MPs have been suspended on the grounds of pending investigation by the privileges committee of the House. This ground of suspension is not in accordance with any rule or conventions.

3) Erosion of Democratic Values: The suspension of a substantial number of Opposition MPs casts a shadow over democratic values, raising concerns about the fair representation of diverse voices within the legislative process. 

4) Lack of Meaningful Opposition in Parliament: The absence of a vibrant opposition challenges the system of checks and balances, potentially impacting the quality of debate and scrutiny in parliamentary affairs. This leads to a lack of legislative scrutiny.

5) Erosion of Public Trust: Trust in the democratic institutions may face erosion if citizens perceive a lack of transparency, accountability, and a conducive environment for meaningful discourse. 

6) Against Freedom of Expression of MPs: Suspension might be seen as a way of silencing dissent or differing opinions. 

7) Partisan Decision Making: Decisions to suspend members can sometimes be subjective, influenced by political motives rather than the actual violation of parliamentary rules. This can raise concerns about fairness and impartiality. 

8) Excessive Length of Suspension: Sometimes, the duration of suspension might be seen as excessive, especially if it hampers the member’s ability to represent their constituency effectively for an extended period. 

9) Deteriorating Quality of Bills: Lesser debates will eventually deteriorate the quality of the bills due to a lack of debate and discussion in the absence of Opposition MPs. 

10) Diplomatic Implications: The global community often observes the functioning of democracies, and any perceived challenges to democratic norms can influence international perceptions of India. For example, India’s standing in indices such as the Global Democracy Index may suffer.  

Addressing these issues requires a delicate balance between maintaining parliamentary decorum and ensuring that the disciplinary measures are fair and transparent, allowing for the representation of diverse views in a democratic setting. 

What is the Way Forward?

1) Striking a Distinction: There is a need to strike a distinction between deliberate disruption and raising of uncomfortable but important issues. 

2) Alternative Methods of Discipline: Some experts argue that there should be alternative ways to discipline members, such as warnings, fines, or other measures that don’t completely exclude MPs from participating in parliamentary affairs. A former Speaker had suggested that TV cameras be focussed on the demonstrating members so that people could see for themselves how their representatives were behaving.  

3) Suspension Should be Considered as a Last Resort: The House needs the uninterrupted services of all its members and hence, suspension of MPs has to be a last resort. 

4) Due Process: The provision for suspension is intended to maintain the dignity, decorum, and smooth functioning of the parliament. However, its application should adhere to the principles of fairness, due process, and the rule of law. 

5) Cooperation Between Government and Opposition: The ruling party responsible for governing should take other parties into confidence. The Opposition should play a constructive role in Parliament and be allowed to put forward its views and express itself in a dignified manner.

6) Giving Powers to the Opposition: Letting the Opposition set the agenda for debate in the two Houses can be a possible reform. The Parliament should incorporate specific days for the Opposition in its calendar for deliberating on issues that the Opposition considers important (like in the UK House of Commons). 

7) Political Maturity: To protect the sanctity of the Parliament, political maturity on the part of both, the government as well as the opposition, is the need of the hour. While the government must engage Opposition in a meaningful manner, it is the responsibility of the Opposition to present its dissent in a orderly fashion.

 

The recent disruptions and mass suspension of MPs should be a wake-up call for our national legislature. These events highlight that its reputation as the highest forum for deliberation is at risk. Parliament needs to find better solutions for fostering debate or risk the slow erosion of public faith in it. 

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