Were crucial minutes of TV footage during passage of the farm bills, as well as the Rajya Sabha rulebook, muted?


By KTS Tulsi and Tanessa Puri

The farm bills elicited a cacophony of voices, on the grounds of an absence of welfare ‘support’ in apparently pro-welfare legislations. Opposition parties demanded that the farm bills should be scrutinised and examined by a select committee of the House. This article lends a voice, not to merits or demerits of the bills, but to the muted seconds in the Rajya Sabha TV footage.

Rajya Sabha proceedings are governed by the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Council of States. Based on Rule 252 of this Rulebook, one of the many methods to ascertain votes in Parliament is voice voting, normally used when there is a clear majority on passing a bill. Despite the pronounced dissent against and criticism of the farm bills, adopting the method of voice voting was by itself a suspicious strategy.

When the method of voice voting was resorted to on September 20, the ‘Ayes’ had it according to the presiding officer. That opinion was challenged. According to sub clause (3) of Rule 252 physical voting – called ‘division by count’ – needed to occur at such a moment. MPs demanded division. This was voiced at 1.09pm on Rajya Sabha TV. But it never reached the public ear because footage was doctored to such an extent that it was muted.

This was the most anti-democratic moment in the history of the Indian Parliament. Not only because of the manner in which the demand for division had been ignored, but also because of footage tampering. It is telling of a tendency to manipulate a narrative before it reaches the ordinary household. There is a clear violation of Rule 252 of the Rulebook.

Muting of the footage notwithstanding, those who had access to the live proceedings had no doubt that the disorder was a result of the refusal to conduct division. The disorder, therefore, could not be the reason for refusal because it followed the refusal and did not precede it.

That the MPs demanded division can be gauged because when the audio returns, Rajya Sabha deputy speaker Harivansh Singh is heard saying, “division demand seat se hoga.” Later on, the deputy speaker claimed lack of order in the House as his defence for refusing to conduct a division of votes. This is even more troubling because at the time of making such a demand from 1.10pm to 1.11pm, MPs such as KK Ragesh and Tiruchi Siva are seen demanding division of votes from their seats.

It was only after the demand for division was ignored that at 1.12pm a few MPs gathered near the well. Even at this point, only Congress MPs were in the well. MPs from other parties are seen sitting and demanding division. Their demand continues to be ignored.

Moreover, based on Rule 257, if there is “grave disorder” the Chairman may adjourn the Council. Despite this Rule, the Chairman continues to conduct parliamentary affairs.

The other allegation against the opposition is that they broke mics. Whereas in reality, when Derek O’Brien approached the dais with the Rulebook, the marshal grabbed the book as a result of which the book fell. This caused two of the mics to come off in the hinges.

Rule 37 of the same Rulebook allows for any variation in allocation of time order only if the Chairman after taking a sense of the Council is satisfied that there is a general agreement for such variation. This means that the day’s proceedings can be extended only if the government and opposition agree. However, on the sole request of parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi, the day’s proceedings were extended. This rule of the Code also stands violated.

This point is strengthened when at 1.03pm leader of opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad says, “opposition parties are saying that time should not be extended today.” After this, the opposition moved a motion of no-confidence against Harivansh Singh, which was rejected by Venkaiah Naidu.

This leaves many open questions. First about the interests of the government in passing these bills and second towards their obtrusively “anti-farmer” content which seeks to hide behind the rushed time frame of such Parliamentary conduct.

KTS Tulsi is Senior Advocate and MP, Rajya Sabha. Tanessa Puri is an Associate at his chambers

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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