Disruption is Contempt of the House, says RS Chairman Venkaiah Naidu

In a first by any Presiding Officer of the legislatures in the country and in the context of rising disruptions, Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu on Saturday unequivocally held that disruptions of proceedings amount to “contempt of the House” and disruptors can’t claim it as their privilege to do so.Delivering the second Ram Jethmalani Memorial Lecture on “Is the disruption of parliamentary proceedings an MP’s privilege and/or a facet of parliamentary democracy?” virtually in New Delhi today, Naidu spoke at length on the intentions of various rules and other provisions requiring high standards of behaviour of MPs in the House and the scheme of privileges and argued that disruptions negate the objective of effective performance by individual members and of the House collectively.

As per a press release by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat, Naidu described late Ram Jethmalani as a rebel and radical thinker who brought innovation to legal inquiry and opened new vistas of interpretation and opportunities in every major case he argued during his 77 years long and successful career as a leading lawyer.Speaking on disruptions in the Parliament, Naidu informed that the productivity of Rajya Sabha is being quantified since 1978 and during the first 19 years till 1996, the productivity of the House has been over 100 per cent and has begun to decline since then.While the House clocked annual productivity of over 100 per cent during 16 of these 19 years, it was so only in two years in 1998 and 2009 during the next 24 years and not even once in the last 12 years, he said.

The Chairman further said that the productivity of Rajya Sabha during 2004-14 has been about 78 per cent and it has declined to about 65 per cent since then. Of the 11 sessions that Naidu presided over, four of them clocked low productivity of 6.80 per cent, 27.30 per cent, 28.90 per cent and 29.55 per cent and during the year 2018, the Rajya Sabha recorded the lowest ever productivity of 35.75 per cent under the impact of disruptions, he stated.The release further stated that during the last monsoon session (254th), the Rajya Sabha lost more than 70 per cent of the scheduled time including over 76 per cent of the valuable Question Hour time.

“Since the Rajya Sabha came into being in 1952, only 10 members were 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,” it added.Naidu, while informing the same, noted that these suspensions do not reflect the gravity of the situation since such actions were not taken on all occasions for various reasons.

Seeking to answer in the negative, if disruption can be claimed as a privilege by MPs, Naidu argued that the Rules of the House, the Code of Conduct, the detailed Parliamentary Etiquette to be complied with by the Members of Rajya Sabha were clearly aimed at ensuring a high standard of behaviour of members inside the House befitting the solemnity of proceedings of the House while the scheme of privileges granted to the Members is intended to enable effective performance of the Members individually and of the House collectively.

He asserted that accordingly, disruptions negate the principle of effective functioning of the House besides being against the wishes of the people.Further, according to the release, 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 etc, Naidu said such privileges were available only in so far as they were necessary for the House to freely perform its functions.

“Privileges are enabling rights of members to put across the views and voice the concerns of their constituents (people who elect the members) fearlessly. These could, therefore, be termed as indirect rights of member’s constituents. It is this essence of privileges that needs to be understood”, Naidu said while referring to a report of the Committee of Privileges of Lok Sabha.Citing the renowned British constitutional theorist Erskine May, Naidu underlined that it is only for effective discharge of the collective functions of the House that the individual privileges are enjoyed by the members.

He contended that any disruption in violation of the Rules of the House and the scheme of Privileges that renders the House dysfunctional amounts to contempt of the House which is mandated to function on behalf of the people.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 lawmaking.”The socio-economic consequences of defective and delayed laws resulting from such disruptions are quite substantial,” he said.