There are a raft of rules that are aimed at helping the two Houses of Parliament function smoothly. But rules may not always be followed to the letter and, especially, during times when the Opposition and the government lock horns over some contentious issue, it is the normal functioning of Parliament that comes to suffer. One of the ways by which legislators can seek the proper observance of procedures is by raising a point of order. Here what that means.
What Is A Point Of Order?
The Lok Sabha Secretariat describes a point of order as “an extraordinary process which, when raised, has the effect of suspending the proceedings before the House". Point of order concerns the procedure and business of the House and the rule book says that “it should relate to arrangement of items already included in the List of Business for the day". Raising a point of order is “meant to assist the Speaker in enforcing the rules, directions and provisions of the Constitution for regulating the business of the House". Thus, it can concern both the application of the rules of the House and even any principles enshrined in the Constitution.
For example, amid the protests over the Pegasus spyware affair in Parliament during the 2021 Monsoon session, Trinamool Congress MP Sukhendu Shekhar Ray raised a point of order in Rajya Sabha citing Article 105(1) of the Constitution which states that “subject to the provisions of this Constitution and to the rules and standing orders regulating the procedure of Parliament, there shall be freedom of speech in Parliament". His contention was about “the freedom of speech of Opposition members… being infringed upon in the House".
When Is It Raised?
As it is concerned with rules of procedure vis-a-vis “a breach of order or a transgression of any written or unwritten law of the House", a wide range of issues can be flagged under a point of order. The Rajya Sabha Secretariat says that “the test whether a point raised is a point of order or not is not whether the Chair can give any relief but whether it involves such interpretation or enforcement of the rules, etc. and whether it raises a point which the Chair alone can decide".
But the RS Secretariat notes that a point of order is “one of the most vexatious parliamentary practices which confronts a presiding officer" as the practice “raises real problems for the Chair".
That is because, unlike the procedures for raising questions or flagging issues in Parliament, most of which involve the giving of prior notice by a member or seeking the presiding officer’s permission, a point of order does not need prior notice and is supposed to receive precedence over any matter that the House may be dealing with right then.
“The problem for the Chair lies in the fact that, until he hears at least a substantial part of a member’s submission, he (the Chair) is not in a position to rule that it is not a point of order," the RS Secretariat says. It states that the Chair may “rebuke a member who blatantly and frequently raises a ‘bogus’ or unwarranted point of order", he “cannot in general, refuse to hear points of order".
How Is It Raised?
To raise a point of order, a member has just to stand up and say ‘Point of Order’, whereupon she or he has to be first identified by the presiding officer. The member should elaborate on his/her concern only after being identified by the presiding officer. “While formulating her/his point of order, the member should quote the specific rule or the provision of the Constitution relating to the procedure of the House which may have been ignored or neglected or violated," says the Lok Sabha Secretariat.
However, a point of order cannot be raised during the Question Hour, or when the House is taking up any motion. Further, what a point of order may not be used for is for a member to ask for information, or to explain her/his position, etc. Also, a point of order regarding an item of business cannot be raised after such business has been disposed of. A point of order must refer to procedure and not substantive arguments on a motion.
What Happens When A Point Of Order Is Raised?
The moment a point of order is raised by one member, “the member who is speaking at that time must give way and resume his seat" and it “has the effect of suspending the proceedings before the House".
After having heard the member, it is the presiding officer who decides whether “a point raised is a point of order or not". No debate is allowed on a point of order, but the presiding officer may hear the member before giving her/his decision. The procedure vis-a-vis a point of order is covered by Rule 376 of the Lok Sabha rules and by Rule 258 in Rajya Sabha.
The RS Secretariat notes that there can be instances when “the Chair may refuse to entertain the points straightaway so that at least in those situations… the time of the House is not wasted in making or hearing submissions on points which are clearly not points of order".
It says that “the points of order tend to increase at times of acute political tension (and)… it is certain that they will continue to be one of the most irksome problems for the occupants of the Chair".