A number of words and expressions have been declared ‘unparliamentary’ in both the Houses of the Parliament, a move that is inviting critique from the Opposition. A new booklet by the Lok Sabha Secretariat lists out unparliamentary words and expressions, which include ‘anarchist’, ‘Shakuni’, ‘tanashah’, ‘taanashahi’, ‘dictatorial’, ‘Jaichand’, ‘Khalistani’, ‘vinash purush’, and ‘khoon se kheti’. You can view the detailed list here.
But what happens in case an MP ignores the inclusion of these new words and phrases? Can action be initiated against them?
What Happens on Using ‘Unparliamentary Words’
No, action cannot be initiated against any MP in any court for their ‘unparliamentary’ expression. Article 105(2) of the Constitution states 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."
However, the concept of unparliamentary language itself denotes that MPs do not have the freedom to express themselves freely inside the House.
If the words mentioned in the new booklet are spoken or used by members, they will be ‘expunged’ or in other words, marked for deletion. According to Rule 380 (“Expunction”) of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha: “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.”
“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’,” the Rule says.
What’s the History Behind the Custom?
The rules of the Indian Parliament borrow heavily from its British counterpart, which has recorded the ‘expunging’ of words or expressions during its proceedings from as early as 1604.
“An entry in the Commons journal from 1604 is often referred to as the first time the House took action. The House reviewed an ill-tempered debate the previous day on the subject of purveyance, and in particular, a speech of the eminent lawyer Lawrence Hyde. It was agreed ‘for a Rule of the House; Qui digreditur a materia ad personam [whoever descends from talking about the subject to talking about persons], Mr. Speaker ought to suppress,’ according to a historical report by Paul Seaward.
The British historian further explains that this was most likely not the first time such a rule was articulated, but it was the first time it was documented in a journal.
He explains that there exist two lengthy descriptions of the operation of the House of Commons from the sixteenth century, both of which implied that the House spontaneously enforced a collective sense of proper behaviour, though neither implied that the Speaker was empowered to intervene.
Some Unparliamentary Words in Other Countries
It’s not just limited to Britain or India. Some words and expressions are declared unparliamentary from time to time by the Chair in different Legislative bodies in in the country as well as in Commonwealth Parliaments.
In Australia, during a 1997 session of the Senate, the words “liar" and “dumbo" were ordered to be withdrawn and deemed unparliamentary.
In New Zealand, the word ‘commo’ (slang for communist) is not allowed. But the list is longer in Canada: with ‘evil genius’, ‘Canadian Mussolini’, ‘sick animal’, ‘pompous ass’ is also considered unparliamentary.
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