- Two days of heated exchanges in Parliament have brought back recurring questions around “unparliamentary” speech and conduct.
- While Article 105(2) of the Constitution lays down that “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”, MPs do not enjoy the freedom to say whatever they want inside the House.
Checks on MPs’ speech
- Whatever an MP says is subject to the discipline of the Rules of Parliament, the “good sense” of Members, and the control of proceedings by the Speaker. These checks ensure that MPs cannot use “defamatory or indecent or undignified or unparliamentary words” inside the House.
- Rule 380 (“Expunction”) of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha says: “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.”
- Rule 381 says: “The portion of the proceedings of the House so expunged shall be marked by asterisks and an explanatory footnote shall be inserted in the proceedings as follows: ‘Expunged as ordered by the Chair’.”
- There are phrases and words, literally in thousands, both in English and in other Indian languages, that are “unparliamentary”. The Presiding Officers — Speaker of Lok Sabha and Chairperson of Rajya Sabha — have the job of keeping these bad words out of Parliament’s records.
- For their reference and help, the Lok Sabha Secretariat has brought out a bulky tome titled ‘Unparliamentary Expressions’, the 2004 edition of which ran into 900 pages.
- The list contains several words and expressions that would probably be considered rude or offensive in most cultures; however, it also has stuff that is likely to be thought of as being fairly harmless or innocuous.
- The state legislatures too are guided mainly by the same book, which also draws heavily from unparliamentary words and phrases used in the Vidhan Sabhas and Vidhan Parishads of India.
- The book was first compiled in 1999. At the time, references were taken from debates and phrases declared unparliamentary by the pre-independence Central Legislative Assembly, the Constituent Assembly of India, the Provisional Parliament, the first to the tenth Lok Sabhas and Rajya Sabha, state legislatures, and Commonwealth parliaments like that of the United Kingdom, G C Malhotra, the former Lok Sabha Secretary General, had told The Indian Express back in 2012.
- Malhotra was head of the editorial board of the 2004 edition of the book. “Depending upon rulings of the presiding officers, new words and phrases continue to be added to the list at regular intervals,” Malhotra had said at the time.