Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

On expunction powers in Parliament   


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Motion of Thanks; Parliamentary privileges; Article 87; Rajya Sabha and Loksabha Rules;

Mains level: Can a member of the Lok Sabha direct a remark against a Minister?

Why in the News? 

The 18th Lok Sabha’s special session featured intense debates on the ‘Motion of Thanks’ to the President’s address, culminating in disputes over expunged remarks by Opposition leaders.

What are expunged remarks?

Expunged remarks in Parliament refer to the words deemed defamatory, indecent, or unparliamentary by the presiding officer and are deleted from the official record.

What is a ‘Motion of Thanks’?

  • A Motion of Thanks is moved in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha after the President’s address (Article 87) by an MP of the ruling party, following which it is debated in both the Houses.
  • It is a customary practice, adopted from the British Parliament. The Indian Constitution does not provide for any such motion, except direction that each House shall discuss the matters contained in the address.
  • In most cases, three days are set aside for a discussion of the Motion of Thanks and the members are at liberty to speak on any matter of national or international importance and other issues.

Why did the Opposition engage in a war of words with the government over expunging certain remarks?

  • The expunging of critical remarks escalated tensions between the Opposition and the government, leading to a verbal clash during the parliamentary session.
  • There were concerns about transparency in the expunction process, with accusations of biased decisions by the presiding officers.
    • The opposition alleged that there were different standards for expunging remarks made by their leaders compared to those made by ruling party members.
    • Opposition members argued that their remarks critical of the Prime Minister and the ruling party were unfairly expunged, infringing on their Parliamentary Privilege of Free speech.

What is the process for ‘expunging remarks’ in Parliament?

  • Presiding Officer’s Discretion: Under Rule 261 in Rajya Sabha and Rules 380 and 381 in Lok Sabha, the Chairman or Speaker can order expunction if words are deemed defamatory, indecent, unparliamentary, or undignified.
    • If objectionable words are used, the Chair may request their withdrawal; if not complied with, the words are expunged immediately.
  • Recording Changes: Expunged portions are marked with asterisks and a footnote explaining that they were expunged as ordered by the Chair.
  • Publication Restrictions: Media are provided with a list of expunged words/phrases and are prohibited from publishing them to avoid a breach of parliamentary privilege.

Can a member of the Lok Sabha direct a remark against a Minister?

  • Parliamentary Privilege: Members of Parliament (MPs) have the privilege of ‘Freedom of Speech and Expression’ within the House.
    • This includes the right to question the conduct, policies, or actions of Ministers during parliamentary debates without fear of legal repercussions.
  • Procedural Requirements: According to parliamentary rules (Rule 353 in Lok Sabha), if an MP wishes to make an allegation against a Minister, they are required to provide advance notice.
    • This notice allows the Minister in question to prepare a response or provide facts to address the allegation during the debate.
  • Government Accountability: MPs play a crucial role in holding the government accountable to Parliament and the public. Allegations made against Ministers are part of this oversight function, ensuring transparency and accountability in governance.
    • However, these allegations must be made in adherence to parliamentary decorum and procedural rules to maintain fairness and order in debates.

What do the various rules state?

  • Rajya Sabha (Rule 261): Allows the Chairman to expunge defamatory, indecent, unparliamentary, or undignified words from proceedings.
  • Lok Sabha (Rules 380 and 381): Similar provisions for the Speaker to expunge objectionable remarks from parliamentary records.
  • Scope of Expunction: Rules also cover situations where remarks are detrimental to the national interest, offensive to dignitaries, or likely to affect religious or communal sensitivities.
  • Digital Age Challenges: Despite expunction, digital recordings and social media can perpetuate expunged remarks, challenging the effectiveness of traditional expunction practices.

Way forward: 

  • Enhanced Monitoring and Control: Implement advanced monitoring tools that can detect and automatically blur or mute expunged remarks in live broadcasts and recordings of parliamentary proceedings. This can help prevent the inadvertent spread of expunged content on digital platforms.
  • Public Awareness and Education: Encourage responsible reporting and sharing practices to uphold the integrity of expunctions in parliamentary records.

Mains PYQ: 

Q ‘Once a Speaker, Always a Speaker’! Do you think this practice should be adopted to impart objectivity to the office of the Speaker of Lok Sabha? What could be its implications for the robust functioning of parliamentary business in India? (UPSC IAS/2020)


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