Vice President of India, M. Venkaiah Naidu delivered the ‘Ram Jethmalani Memorial Lecture Series’ hosted by the iTV Network on Saturday. The topic of the lecture was ‘Disruption to parliamentary proceedings an MP’s privilege?’ Following is the first part of it.
Shri Kiren Rijiju, Hon’ble Minister, Shri KK Venugopal Ji, Attorney General Of India, Shri Mahesh Jethmalani, Hon’ble Member of Parliament, is organiser of this event. Shri Tushar Mehta ji, Solicitor General Of India, Shri Ranjit Kumar, Former Solicitor General, Shri Gopal Subramaniam, Former Solicitor General, Shri S Gurumurthy, Editor Of Tughlak Newspaper, Shri Kartikeya Sharma, Founder of iTV Network, Shri Rishabh Gulati, Editor-NewsX, Shri Pavan Varma ji, legal luminaries, distinguished guests and others watching this program online, first of all, I would like to be frank that this second Ram Jethmalani memorial lecture is an important issue that is agitating the minds of the people— the disruptions in Parliament. I also feel happy to see several legal luminaries, political commentators. Shri Venugopal ji is looking very colourful, like Shri Ram Jethmalani. In the end, Shri Ram Jethmalani used to be very colourful. I had a personal acquaintance with him because of the political connection I had, being within that party that supported him earlier. Of course, I am no more in that party. It is no good to be there in the future also but this personality of Shri Ram Jethmalani, you do not need any introduction. He is a very distinguished legal luminary of this country and we through his arguments, his performances and his achievements. Amazing that way. I am not going to speak about his background and all, because already a detailed introduction has been given. Though you do not need any introduction but it is for the newcomers to public life. I compliment Shri Mahesh Jethmalani, the distinguished son, for instituting this lecture series in memory of his distinguished father. He was a remarkable person by all grounds and standards, pursued for 95 long years. The journey was marked by a rare demonstration of energy and passion till the end. Having begun as a law graduate at the age of 17, he began his practice in his hometown of Shikarpur in Sindh at the age of 18 years after successfully contesting the prevailing norm of 21 years for being a lawyer. He was dynamic and he was admired by people across the country because of his legal acumen. The way he used to put forth his point of view and the beautiful command he had over the subject as well as the language. What made Shri Ram Jethmalani a successful lawyer was the innovation he used to impart in the process of inquiring new interpretations and possibilities, which the judges sitting on the bench could not ignore and had to even acknowledge at times. With every case that Ram Jethmalani argued, he became sharper and sharper, and famous. Being a successful lawyer is very demanding, as it requires triumph and energy. He had a passion for the chosen profession and sustained it for long years. As a lawyer, he opened new vistas of legal understanding in almost every major case he argued. Of these 77 years of an eventful journey, Shri Ram Jethmalani was a member of Parliament for 37 years. Having been in Rajya Sabha 6 times from 4 different states and once a nominated member for vice elected to Lok Sabha. He was also a minister for urban development and law and justice. It is very rare to wear 2 hats that successfully and only men of calibre of Late Ram Jethmalani could do. Shri Ram Jethmalani has described himself as a maverick. He was a maverick with a conscience. A maverick with unchanged and unrepented. A luminary, who had witnessed a conflict of laws and seen big egos of small men. These descriptions are titles of the books he wrote. The dictionary meaning of a maverick is a person who is unorthodox, independent-minded and, in a way, there is innovation in whatever does, whatever he said. Shri Jethmalani was all about it and all through his life, and so was unique. He was a rebel and a radical thinker.
Now let us come to the theme of this lecture, ‘Is Disruption of Parliamentary Proceedings an MP’s privilege or a facet of parliamentary democracy?’ The answer is no. I cannot but appreciate the acumen of Shri Mahesh Jethmalani, the distinguished lawyer, the member of Rajya Sabha now, for posing such a question and that too to your presiding officer. He is clever, seeking to force the chairman of Rajya Sabha to answer such a tricky question, knowing pretty well that I don’t have the luxury of being ambivalent, to the height these liberal lawyers can be. Particularly so, in the context of what had happened in the Rajya Sabha during the last monsoon session, which is fresh in the minds of people. However, having accepted the proposition, I want to answer it. In the process, I am conscious that for the first time, a presiding officer would be taking a stand or position on such a question openly. To begin with, we need to understand as to why the disruptions in the legislature, including the Parliament, are a matter of serious concern. Parliament, state legislatures, we are all witnessing what is happening and people getting distressed is an illusion, is a point. The legislature is meant to make the laws for the people and the country with members effectively articulating the concerns of people and deliberating various issues and concerns of wider public concern besides ensuring the accountability of the executive to the legislature. That is possible when there is a debate and there is a discussion. In essence, the legislatures are to function on the behalf of the people and for the people. They are supposed to protect you, not disrupt you or obstruct you. They are supposed to construct you. This warrants us to take a look at the functioning of the parliament since Independence. I am trying to present facts before the people. Rajya Sabha, after many deliberations, was formed after the constituent assembly meet. There was a discussion on the need of a Rajya Sabha. Thus, its relevance came into being in 1952. Its productivity is being questioned with all relevant data since 1978. Since 1978, 1996, the productivity of the house has been more than 100%. The average annual productivity of the house measured in terms of effective utilization of the time has been 100% for more than 16 of these 19 years. However, the scenario has begun to change thereafter from 1997 to 2020. The productivity of the house splashed only during 2 years in 1998 and 2009. Not even once during the last 12 years. This is the area of concern, which brings out the consequence of raising disruptions. The overall productivity of Rajya Sabha, during 2004-14, has been about 78%. Since then, it has come down to about 65%. The productivity of the last 11 sessions that I have had the honour of preceding has come down to 66.50%. Four of these 11 sessions clocked low productivity of 6.80%, 27.30%, 28.90% and 29.55%. In effect, more than two-thirds of the last 11 sessions were very bad and have been hit by disruptions. In the year 2018, Rajya Sabha recorded the lowest-ever annual productivity of 35.75%. The overall productivity of the 2 sessions held in 2021, has further dipped to 63.83%. During the last monsoon session, i.e. 254th session of Rajya Sabha, the house had last more than 70% of the scheduled time, including 77% of the variable question hour time. Earlier because of this pandemic, the question hour time was done away with because a lot of officers had to come, seating and space. Questions were raised about the wisdom in cancelling question hour and some people said cancelling question hour is murder of democracy. Here, question hour is allowed. Every day, 15 questions are admitted. Answers are prepared after an exhaustive search for facts and getting information from committed various levels but the questions that were not raised or allowed to be answered. Questions were not allowed to be raised. Question hour is an important instrument of seeking accountability of the executive for the implementation of the government policies and programs and pinning down their executive and their lapses thereof. During the last 6 years, 60% of the question hour time has been lost due to disruptions. The state of affairs justifies the growing concern over the persistent disruptions. Not only question hour, but we also came out with the new idea of zero hour. Zero hour also everyday, around 20 submissions were accepted. 25 members were informed but members were not allowed to ask zero hour or make zero hour submission. Special mentions also were admitted, raised by various members of various political parties but could not be taken up. It is in this context that the question whether disruption of parliamentary proceedings being the privilege of the member of Parliament is to be understood and answered. There is also equally very disturbing trend of getting the legislations laws passed in the dim. It is not a happy thing but one of the functions, as I said earlier, of the parliamentarians is to make legislations for governing the country by giving guidance to the executive but when the house is not allowed to function and there is continued disruption, so you give up making legislations. That means making the house dysfunctional, even on that count, crippling democracy and the system, handicapping the government of the day, which is elected, to have legislations after debate and discussion. So, for all the members asking me ‘Sir, please ensure that no bill is passed without discussion and dim’, I said I totally agree with you. I put a solution, I said, ‘No dim and no passing of the bills in dim”. I said allow discussions to take place and then vote for the bill. The choice is up to you. But, if you don’t allow the house and there is continuous disruption created, what do you do? There is a question. No sir, we need to extend the context and framework in which MPs are required to function and why some privileges are given to the members. Number 1, rules of conduct. There is an elaborate number of schemes, procedures and conduct of business in the council of states, the code of conduct, a detailed parliament etiquette, constitutional provisions, customs and conventions of the house and the rulings of their chair, which are to be comprised with the members. It is very clear. The state of objective for the rules and guidelines, you have to ensure high standards of behavior with members both within and outside the house to enable smooth functioning of the house and uphold the dignity and stature of the parliament. Certain privileges are given to the members and parliament, also intended to enable effective functioning, which is the purpose of giving privilege.
Let us now briefly examine various rules and provisions. Rule 235 and 241 of Rajya Sabha provide for the conduct of the members during the proceedings of the house. Rule 235 clearly stipulates that members shall not obstruct the proceedings of the house and interrupt members while speaking by disorderly expressions or any other manner and not speaking to the council. Rule 243 requires that the chairman whenever he raises, shall be heard in silence and any member who is speaking or interrupting the speech shall immediately sit down; but these rules are being violated. The 14 rule framework of the code of conduct, recommended by the ethics committee of the Rajya Sabha and adopted by the house on December 15, 1999, requires that members must not do anything that disrupts the members of the parliament and affects its credibility. Going to the well of the house, bringing play cards, snatching paper from the minister, obstructing the functioning of the house by not only going to the well of the house but also going to the extent of climbing up on the table, secretariat, tearing the paper, throwing them on the chair, these things were not even imagined. There are to be discrepancies, disruptions but not this way. Further, there is an elaborate 42-point etiquette, which the members are required to follow, which helps in upholding the dignity of the house and the members. This scheme is drawn from the rules of the house, rulings of the chairman’s conventions and parliamentary practices require the members to not even converse among themselves to avoid disturbing the proceedings of the house, not to raise unless called by the chair, not to repeat the arguments of the previous speaker, not to interrupt or argue with the member who is speaking, not to use offensive and unparliamentary language, not use their right for speech for obstructing the business of the house. So, all this. This is agreed upon by the house. It is clear that the objective of this scheme is to have order in the house so that it functions effectively. This code even requires the members not to read newspapers, periodicals, etc., and not to once repeat the speech.
To be continued