NEWS
24/09/2020 8:03 AM IST

An Expert Weighs In On The Chaos In Parliament And The Voting Process

Chakshu Roy from PRS Legislative Research explains how a Chair decides if the voting will take place through a voice vote and the rules on suspension of MPs.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Congress MP Ahmed Patel, with other MPs, addresses the media after the passing of two farm bills in Rajya Sabha on 20 September, 2020.

On Sunday, the Rajya Sabha witnessed a ruckus after the government put two farm Bills — Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 — up for voting. 

During the session, Deputy Chairperson Harivansh Narayan Singh asked the members to extend the day’s proceedings to allow the passage of the Bills, according toScroll, but the opposition protested against this. 

The opposition members demanded that the voting be postponed for Monday because they wanted to discuss some aspects of the bills, according to an account byThe Wire collated from versions of MPs and reports. 

When the deputy chairperson refused, an uproar began in the Upper House. Trinamool Congress legislator Derek O’Brien entered the well and attempted to show Singh the Rajya Sabha rulebook, Scroll added.

Amid protests by the Opposition, the telecast of live proceedings was stopped and the bills were controversially passed through a voice vote. Opposition members questioned the Deputy Chairman’s decision, with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjeesaying that voting was not allowed even though the Constitution says that it has to be allowed if someone demands.  

On Monday, eight Opposition members were suspended until the remainder of the Monsoon session after the Rajya Sabha adopted a motion moved by the government. Rajya Sabha Chairperson M Venkaiah Naidu also rejected the no-confidence motion moved by the Opposition against the Deputy Chairperson, saying it was ‘not in proper format’ and requires a notice of 14 days. 

As the Opposition continues to protest and boycott Parliament proceedings, several questions have been raised about the process of voting and the rejection of the no-confidence motion. In the meantime, the government has been pushing through several crucial bills without adequate discussion.

HuffPost India spoke to Chakshu Roy, who heads the outreach team and leads the legislator and citizen engagement initiatives at PRS Legislative Research, about how a Chair decides if the voting will take place through a voice vote, the rules of suspension of members and why it’s important to send bills to select committees. 

1. How does the Chair decide which method of voting will be used in the House — voice vote or a division by count?

Every decision in Parliament has to be decided by voting. In many Parliaments, the only method of voting is a recorded vote — members’ votes are recorded against their names. In Indian Parliament, voting can happen in two ways. It can happen through a voice vote, which means all those in favour of a particular decision say ‘aye’ and all those who oppose the decision say ‘no’. The Chair decides which side was louder and takes a decision.

Voice vote is the usual method of voting. Most of the voting which takes place in the Parliament is through a voice vote, but if a member wants a recorded vote to take place, they can request for a division. This means that each member’s vote will be recorded.

Usual voting takes place through a voice vote, unless a member specifically asks for a division.

2. MPs claimed on Sunday that they asked for a division, but were denied. What is the next available course of action for the members if their demand is denied by the Chair?

If you look at the Parliamentary record, members asked for the division and the presiding officer (deputy chairperson) asked the members a number of times to go back to their seats for division to take place. It was during this time that the members were in the well. This was the confusion on Sunday.

There are a few solutions that can be implemented to avoid this chaos. Indian Parliament has a system of electronic voting — members can vote for any motion from their seats. One of the things that can be done is, all the motions related to bills or all substantive motions can be voted upon through recorded voting. This is the first solution.

The demand of the opposition on Sunday was that the farm bills should be referred to a Parliamentary committee. The second solution can be that all bills are automatically referred to a committee. This means what happened on Sunday will just not happen.

3. What recourse do the members have once their demand for a division is denied?

In my experience, the demand of a division is usually not denied when the House is in order unless the Chair gives a reasoning for the refusal.

One of the things that could happen is that if a member’s demand for a division is denied, they can write to the chairperson. Then the presiding officer will give a ruling on what needs to be done.

4. How important is it to send bills to a select committee?

Passing the laws involves separate activities. One is when a particular bill comes to the Parliament, it goes into the details. Parliament also puts the bill out in public domain and asks for feedback. After speaking to experts and stakeholders, the committee will write up a report and give a number of recommendations. An MP with a divergent viewpoint can also give a dissent note. This will be a technical report, and it would have less to do with politics.

This report is then presented to the Parliament and all MPs will be able to refer to this report to get informed about the nuances of the bill. The bill is then debated on the floor of the House.

Committees are called ‘mini Parliament’ because they are made up of MPs and they meet throughout the year. They can also give technical details on an issue.

5. Who decides when the telecast of Parliamentary proceedings should be cut off? On what basis is such a decision taken?

I am not sure who decides when the telecast is cut off, but there are guidelines, for both Rajya and Lok Sabha, which determine how the proceedings take place. Those guidelines are internal to the working of the two houses and not available in public domain.

The decisions of the working of the two Houses are up to the presiding officers of the two Houses.

6. Opposition moved a vote of no-confidence against the deputy chairman, but it was rejected by the Chairman. Venkaiah Naidu said it was not in a proper format and it requires a notice of 14 days, but Congress MP Abhishek Singhvi has contended that the 14-day notice is required for consideration of the motion, not for filing. Do you think the rejection of the no-confidence motion was according to rules?

I followed that controversy. I cannot decide if it’s according to the rules or not. The Chairman of the Rajya Sabha has given his reason for rejecting it. The Opposition parties are open to disagree with it. I think the debate from the Parliamentary point closes here.

From a political sense, Opposition parties can write to the Chairman and express their disagreement.

7. What is the process for the suspension of members in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha?

The suspension of members happens in both the houses in different ways. The rules of procedure of Lok Sabha changed in 2001-2002, which allowed Lok Sabha for automatic suspension of members if they came into the well and disrupted proceedings. There was a new rule that was added.

Usually the rule of suspension in both the Houses that is followed is that a member makes a motion asking for the suspension of members and the House then votes on it.

In the Rajya Sabha, the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs moved a motion for suspension of eight members on Sunday. The motion was carried in Rajya Sabha and that’s how the suspension happened.

(Ed—Under Rule 374A (which was inserted in December 2001), in the event of a grave disorder occasioned by a member coming into the well of a House, persistently and wilfully obstructing a business by shouting slogans or otherwise, such a member shall, on being named by the Speaker, stand automatically suspended for five consecutive sittings or remainder of the session, whichever is less.)

8. The members voted on this motion on Sunday through a voice vote?

Yes

9. What does the entire chaos on Sunday say about the state of our Parliamentary proceedings? 

There is a certain decorum and sanctity to Parliamentary proceedings. It’s always disheartening to see disturbances in the House whether it was what happened on Sunday or when there’s slogan shouting. The word Parliament comes from the word ‘parley’ and it’s about discussion.

The cornerstone of any Parliamentary democracy should be that people should be able to come to the table and express their disagreements. Otherwise, both the treasury and the Opposition feel aggrieved. I view it as a trust deficit between the treasury and Opposition benches. I think that dialogue and consensus building seems to be missing in our Parliament. We need mechanisms for parties to discuss with each other on how to get business done in the House

10. Do you think the way the farm bills were passed set a dangerous precedent? What are the other major occasions when this has happened?

I don’t want to comment on the precedent part. Nothing in Parliament should be passed in a din. Nothing should be hurried through. Government should not push bills through Parliament.

It’s happened in the past as well. Just because of how things have happened in the past or how things happened on Sunday doesn’t mean that’s a benchmark of how things should happen in the future. This should be a learning experience for the Parliament, for the ruling party and the Opposition.

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