Yesterday, the Rajya Sabha witnessed an unprecedented 11 adjournments amid a clash between the government and the Opposition over how an anti-graft bill should be passed and continued disruptions that prompted the Chair to lament the “murder of democracy”.
While the House was first adjourned till 2 pm within 20 minutes after it met at 11 am due to unrelenting Opposition protests, it saw ten adjournments in a row in three hours, after it reconvened in the afternoon.
Chairman Venkaiah Naidu called the protests, which have not allowed any business to be transacted since the House met on March 5, as a “murder of democracy”.
Naidu expressed displeasure over repeated disruptions since Parliament met early last month for the second half of the budget session.
He requested members to return to their seats and at least pass the anti-corruption bill. He said handful of people were obstructing proceedings over their agenda.
When the House met at 2 pm, members of Congress, AIADMK, BSP, CPI-M, AAP, TDP and YSR were in the Well holding placards and shouting slogans — “Narendra Modi – Dalit Virodhi” (Narendra Modi is anti-Dalit) and “Dalit virodhi yeh sarkar, nahi chalegi” (this anti-Dalit government will not be tolerated).
Amid the din, the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2013 was taken up for consideration and passage by Deputy Chairman P J Kurien, who asked Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Jitendra Singh to move the bill for consideration, saying he would proceed with it as no member has given their name for a debate on it.
The bill aims to make giving a bribe a specific offence like taking a bribe and seeks to modify the definitions and penalties for such offences, among other things.
When the minister said the bill should just be passed without debate, Kurien asked TMC member Sukhendu Shekhar Ray, who had moved amendments to it, whether he would seek a division to enable voting on his amendments.
As Ray insisted on a division, Kurien said the division cannot be taken up as the House is not in order.
Congress Deputy Leader Anand Sharma then raised a point of order saying the new members, who took oath over the past few days, had not been given division numbers which enables them to exercise their voting right. He said in such a situation, the bill cannot be passed.
But Kurien said “this bill is important. If it is not passed, it will have impact on all government programmes. This bill is in the interest of the country. Therefore, the bill has to be passed” and urged the protesting members to go back to their seats.
“The Opposition wants discussion and the government is ready for it,” he said, and asked the protesting members to take the opportunity to prove their majority at the time of voting.
However, as the exchanges as well as the noisy protests from the Well continued, Kurien adjourned the House briefly.
Following this, he held a series of backroom negotiations with leaders of major parties. The House saw repeated adjournments as the discussions in the Chairs chamber continued.
When the House resumed after a couple of adjournments, Ray again insisted on a division, as other opposition members continued to raise slogans from the Well.
In the melee, Minister Jitendra Singh sought the passage of the bill without debate. “Pass it without the debate by a voice vote as per the sense of the nation,” he said.
Singh also said the government has zero tolerance over corruption. “Those watching todays proceedings will know who is preventing the bill.”
“The bill has gone through the standing committee and time and again it has been discussed over the last four years,” he said.
Referring to Anand Sharmas point that new members had not been allotted division numbers, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar said, “Let us give you (new members) a slip. You can write yes or no. Already the bill has been moved for consideration. I request you to take this bill forward. We have to pass with voice vote.”
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Vijay Goel said “if the House is put to ransom like this and no bills are allowed to be passed, how will the government function? This (bill) should be passed. They (Opposition) have not allowed the House to function, now they want discussion.”
As an unrelenting opposition continued their slogan shouting, the Chair agreed for division and said, “I wish to take the division and proceed. So, please go back to your seats.”
But as his pleas went unheeded, Kurien said he was sad that the House has not been able to transact any business.
However, Ray said he cannot press for division unless the lobbies are cleared and order is maintained in the House. “If you (chair) cannot do it, then adjourn the House,” he said.
As the unruly scenes continued, the Upper House was finally adjourned for the day after witnessing 10 brief adjournments.