Image Courtesy: deccanherald.com
On February 7, Lok Sabha witnessed a fiery address by Congress leader and MP Rahul Gandhi wherein he questioned BJP’s connection with Gautam Adani, who has allegedly committed frauds in his business as per the Hindenburg research report. Gandhi, to prove his point, had even displayed pictures showing Prime Minister Narendra Modi sitting with Adani, thus disclosing a link between them. Further, during his speech, Gandhi put forth a few questions related to the links of Adani with Modi and the BJP.
It was these questions that were expunged from the Lok Sabha proceedings by the Speaker Om Birla. A total of 18 remarks made during his almost hour-long speech have been expunged and this has not gone down well with the Congress and nor does it align with our Constitution and our fundamental rights. By expunging these remarks unwarrantedly, not only is the right to freedom of speech and expression of Gandhi violated but as citizens, our right to know or right to information about the Parliament sessions also gets impinged.
Gandhi pointed out that in 2014, Adani was at 609 ranks in the world’s richest people’s list and in recent times he became the 2nd richest (before the Hindenburg report release) in the world. He said that when you speak of ports, airports, roads, everywhere you hear that it is owned or operated or made by Adani. “How did he get so big? How did he enter all these businesses?” he questioned. The remarks/ questions he asked after this have been conveniently expunged by the Lok Sabha.
Gandhi even showed pictures of Modi with Adani during his speech:
He asked the following questions to Modi:
“On how many of your foreign trips did you and Mr Adani go together?
How many times did Mr Adani join you later on a visit?
How many times did Mr Adani travel to a country immmediately after you did?
And in how many of these countries after you visited did Mr Adani get a contract?
How much money has Mr Adani given to BJP in the past 20 years?
How much (money) has he (Adani) given in Electoral Bonds?
Who owns these shell comnpanies in Mauritius?
These shell companies are routing thousands of crores of rupees into India, who money is it?
Is Mr Adani doing all this for free?”
He said this was “national security issue”.
प्रधानमंत्री जी, आप लोकतंत्र की आवाज़ को मिटा नहीं सकते। भारत के लोग आपसे सीधे सवाल कर रहे हैं। जवाब दीजिए! pic.twitter.com/xlUdLylvUw
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) February 8, 2023
While the questions themselves have not received any response from the BJP or the PM, the fact that they have been expunged from the records of the Parliament can be said to be an unconstitutional act.
When are words expunged?
Removing certain words from a member’s address to the House is fairly routine but it is to be done strictly in accordance with the rules of the House and the authority to do so lies with the person who is presiding the House. IN the case of Lok Sabha, it is supposed to be the Speaker.
While Article 105(2) of the Constitution gives immunity to members of Parliament from court proceedings for remarks made in the Parliament, that freedom of expression is limited as well.
Article 105(2) of the Constitution states as follows:
“(2) No member of Parliament shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any committee thereof, and no person shall be so liable in respect of the publication by or under the authority of either House of Parliament of any report, paper, votes or proceedings”
At the same time, there are ‘Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha’ which the members have to follow. As per rule 380, only those remarks which are “defamatory or indecent or unparliamentary or undignified” are to be removed.
Rule 380 deals with expunction:
380. If the Speaker is of opinion that words have been used in debate which are defamatory or indecent or unparliamentary or undignified, the Speaker may, while exercising discretion order that such words be expunged from the proceedings of the House.
There is also a list of unparliamentary words that may not be spoken in the Lok Sabha by the members. Just before last year’s monsoon session words like words like ‘anarchist’, ‘Shakuni’, ‘dictatorial’, ‘taanashah’, ‘taanashahi’, ‘Jaichand’, ‘vinash purush’, ‘Khalistani’ and ‘khoon se kheti’ were declared an unparliamentary.
Here is the entire list of unparliamentary expressions:
If any of these words are uttered, they are deemed as unparliamentary and are expunged from the text of debate that is finally released after a particular session. Veen unedited text of debate is released every day after a session is concluded.
Can one report on expunged remarks?
However, even if these remarks are expunged, does that mean the people have no way of knowing what was said? There’s two ways to go about it, either one watches the Sansad TV while the proceedings are on but while many of us might not have the liberty of such time to sit and watch Sansad TV all day, that is what media houses are for!
There is no restriction on news media to publish these remarks even if they are expunged.
As per Article 361A of the Constitution, no one can be held liable for publishing true report of any proceedings of any house of the Parliament or Legislative Assembly. The Article states thus:
(1) No person shall be liable to any proceedings, civil or criminal, in any court in respect of the publication in a newspaper of a substantially true report of any proceedings of either House of Parliament or the Legislative Assembly, or, as the case may be, either House of the Legislature, of a State, unless the publication is proved to have been made with malice:
Provided that nothing in this clause shall apply to the publication of any report of the proceedings of a secret sitting of either House of Parliament or the Legislative Assembly, or, as the case may be, either House of the Legislature, of a State.
(2) Clause (1) shall apply in relation to reports or matters broadcast by means of wireless telegraphy as part of any programme or service provided by means of a broadcasting station as it applies in relation to reports or matters published in a newspaper.
Explanation. — In this article, “newspaper” includes a news agency report containing material for publication in a newspaper.
Thus, in such cases, where remarks are unwarrantedly removed and with the people’s right to know about the proceedings in the Parliament, it becomes pertinent that media houses take advantage of this privilege bestowed upon by Article 361A and publish all that matters during the session.
Kharge’s remarks in RS expunged
Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge’s remarks made in the Rajya Sabha were also expunged by the Chairperson Jagdeep Dhankar. Kharge had, in his speech made on Wednesday, raised similar questions as Gandhi did, related to Adani making big money in a short span, since BJP came to power. He also questioned why Modi had not made any comments about the hate speeches made by BJP leaders. Kharge had demanded formation of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe the Hindenburg report alleging various frauds committed by Adani.
“I don’t think there was anything unparliamentary or accusatory against anyone in my speech… But a few words were misconstrued… If you had any doubt, you could have asked in a different way, but you have asked for my words in six places to be expunged,” Kharge said in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday. He also mentioned that similar remarks made by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee against former prime minister PV Narsimha Rao in the House continue to be part of the proceedings.
Referring to Article 105(1) of the Constitution, Kharge wrote to Dhankar, “The institution of Parliament of India is a platform to fix the accountability of the Executive. This necessitates that the policies and the decisions of the government are discussed, dissected, and debated on the floor of the House. Any criticism of policies and decisions of the government and their fallouts cannot be construed as the allegation against any individual Member of the House”.
Further, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury wrote to Om Birla requesting that he revisit his decision to expunge remarks made by Gandhi in the Lok Sabha.
The Congress MPs staged a walkout in Rajya Sabha today over expunction of Kharge’s remarks.