Indian Parliament is one of the most hallowed symbols of our vibrant democracy. Extremes of opinions and myriad views from every corner of the country converge upon its precincts and find an expression. However, of late the great institution has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons such as devaluation of parliamentary authority, falling standards of debates, deterioration in the conduct and quality of Members, poor levels of participation and the like. This has led to a certain cynicism towards parliamentary institutions and an erosion in the credibility of parliamentarians and parliamentary processes.1

The composition, character and culture of parliament too have undergone a sea change. Members seldom seem to value the immense faith the ordinary voters have reposed in them. It is common for members to view their job as a means to acquire power and wealth. According to a report published in Live Mint in May, 2014, “The average wealth of MPs has grown faster over the past five years even as the economy has slowed.”2

More shockingly, according to an analysis of 541 of the 543 winning candidates by National Election Watch (NEW) and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), 186 or 34% of the newly elected MPs in the 16th Lok Sabha have in their election affidavits disclosed criminal cases against themselves.  It means that every third of the newly-elected member of Lok Sabha has a criminal background!3 This is reflective of the growing indifference and contempt of successive generations of parliamentarians for the institutions of Parliament.

The gradual decline of Parliament and attenuation of parliamentary authority is also attributed to frequent absenteeism, deterioration in the conduct and quality of Members, poor levels of participation, and the falling standards of debates and legislative business.  All these have been exacerbated by frequent parliamentary disruptions leading to logjams as was witnessed in the last monsoon session, with the Opposition’s offensives on various issues leading to a series of disruptions, justified or criticized in equal measure depending on whose side one was on. This issue evoked so much concern over the loss of time and the inability of Parliament to transact legislative business, that the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) even started an online signature campaign asking parliamentarians to end the logjam.

Right to dissent, protest vis a vis parliamentary disruptions

Dissent is a critical component of any democracy and, in that light, disruptions could be seen as a part of established parliamentary practice. To wish it away is unrealistic and even undemocratic. However, it becomes a cause for concern when disruptions become the norm, rather than the exception. Frequent parliamentary disruptions mean low number of sittings leading to a decline in legislative activity, budgets getting passed without discussion, urgent bills getting stalled at either of the houses resulting in loss of sitting days and productive business of  Parliament.

1. A Background Paper on Working of Parliament and need for Reforms, available at v2b3-1.htm  (Last visited on Nov 4, 2015)

2. Politicians shine brighter than gold in India, live mint, May 29, 2014, available at (Last visited on Nov 4, 2015)

3. Every third newly elected MP has criminal background, Times of India, May 18, 2014, available at (Last visited on Oct 26, 2015).

Parliament logjam happens when Parliament becomes a spectacle or a ‘tamasha’ with both Houses unable to conduct normal business for days, even weeks, due to disruptive action, mostly of the opposition parties. Recently, the subject elicited passionate and fervent reactions, opinions and views from even the most politically disinclined Indian. The mainstream opinion though has been largely against parliamentary disruptions as these are seen to not only undermine the democratic role of legislatures, but also affect governance. Concerns have also been raised not only over the colossal waste to public exchequer and stalling of the economic reforms, but debates have also been held on the issue of ethics and morality of politicians and political parties involved.

The monsoon session, 2015 has been one of the least productive in the past 15 years with both the Houses losing around 75 per cent of their allocated time for business.4 A study by PRS Legislative Research, a policy study group, shows that this session marked a major low, especially in the Rajya Sabha where it recorded 9 per cent productivity, compared to the earlier budget session when it had recorded an astounding 102 per cent. The performance of the Lok Sabha in this session was equally disappointing with a productivity of 48 per cent, compared to 122 per cent in the earlier session. Also, the time spent on legislative business in the Upper House was a meagre 0.1 hours. Both Houses suffered repeated adjournments on several days, thus resulting in lower-than-normal business.5 According to media reports, the washout of monsoon session of Parliament resulted in a loss of Rs 260 crore of taxpayer money — Rs 162 crore in Lok Sabha and Rs 98 crore in Rajya Sabha.6

 Politics of Disruptions

Let us try to understand the reason why political parties in Opposition, create such logjams by disrupting the Parliament. Whose interests are best served by such disruptions and deadlocks? These attract immediate media and voter attention but thwart the passage of crucial Bills, thereby discrediting the ruling parties or alliances. On the contrary, participating in a debate requires investment in details of any proposed legislation or discussion, which, due to its serious and complex nature, may not attract media attention, except among parliamentary record keepers or academics.

However, the Government too cannot escape responsibility for these deadlocks and is to be partially blamed because of its apparent inability to manage the floor, or to build consensus across parties on policy issues. Another reason for the increasing disruptions could be the change in parliamentary culture. In the first decade of Parliament’s existence, there was a fair degree of homogeneity in the composition of the House, with many of the leading MPs having been schooled in the traditions of British parliamentary practice. The adherence to British parliamentary norms gradually broke down from the 1970s, which was also the time the Congress lost its dominance. The composition of the House became even more heterogeneous — in terms of both caste and class — completely transforming the tenor and idiom of debates. This process was hastened in the late-1980s, which saw the establishment of coalition politics as well as new political forces, particularly the sharp rise in the number of representatives from the Other Backward Classes, unleashed by the Mandal Commission report. The changed composition and diversity of Parliament had a significant impact on parliamentary culture, which was far more permissive to disruptions and protests inside the House.7

4.  Session 2015 among least productive, Deccan Herald, Aug 14, 2015,  available at (Last visited on Oct 26, 2015).

5. Yes, Rajya Sabha’s productivity in this session of Parliament is 9 percent, Indian Express, Aug 13, 2015, available at http:// (Last visited on Nov 17, 2015).

6. Washout of monsoon session could cost tax payers heavy money, Business Insider, July 25, 2015, available at 1Oil9hk ( Last visited on Nov 17, 2015);Washout of monsoon session will lead to 260 crore loss,       Times of India, July 25, 2015, available at (Last visited on Nov 17, 2015) .

7. The politics of parliamentary paralysis, The Hindu, Aug 21, 2015, available at (Last visited on Nov 17, 2015).

The enactment of the anti-defection law in 1985, which allows parties to herd their members, weakens incentives of legislators to invest in developing their own viewpoints and express them freely as they cannot use their own stand on different issues to evolve or develop their own political careers. This could be another reason for the increased logjams and disruptions seen in Parliament. The effect of antidefection law is not only manifest in disruptions or the nature of protest and dissent, but is also detrimental for intra-party democracy.8

This article endeavors to present an overview of the functioning of the Indian Parliament and is divided into four sections. The first section looks at the Lok Sabha since independence through facts and figures. The second section provides an insight into the sitting days and productivity of Parliament, introduction of private member’ bill, duration of parliamentary deliberations etc. The third section provides an account of the powers of the Speaker in LS and that of the Chairman in RS and an overview of the disciplinary mechanisms they are equipped with. The fourth section examines the issue vis a vis Parliaments of some of other democracies, particularly that of Australia, UK, and US.

I.  60 Years of Functioning of Indian Parliament- An Overview

The two Houses of Parliament celebrated their 60th birthday on May 13 (they were constituted on May 13, 1952).  The complexities of modern administration and the decline of the  essential prerequisites for the success of parliamentary polity - discipline, character, high sense of public morality and the ideologically oriented two party system has altered the character of parliament today. There is a need for us to reflect on the efficacy, relevance and standing of these two democratic bodies that are at the apex of our democratic structure.

In an “aspiring” economy such as ours, the Executive has to balance a multitude of tasks and responsibilities, initiating and formulating legislative and financial proposals, giving effect to approved policieswith the support/consent of Parliament. The relationship between Parliament and Executive is supposed to be without antagonism or dichotomy. However, the following figures present a startling picture and clearly tell a very different tale. In the 1950s, Lok Sabha met for an average of 127 days a year; in the 1960s it rose to 138 sittings. This had declined drastically to just 78 sittings in the year 2003. In 2011, it met for 73 days. Compared to the 1950s, the number of sittings of Parliament has declined by about a third (see table 1).


Table 1: Number of sittings of Parliament, 1952–2003

Number of sittings of Lok Sabha (annual average)

Number of sittings of Rajya Sabha (annual average)
1952–1961 124.2 90.5
1962–1971 116.3 98.5
1972–1981 97.9 85.5
982–1991 92.7 79.4
1992–2001 71.3 81.0
2002–2003 79.0 78.0

• While sittings per year and time allocated for budgetary matters is down, there is a sharp rise in the time lost in disruptions and in the cost of running the Parliament. The 11thLok Sabha lost 5 per cent of its time to   disruptions. This rose to over 10 per cent in the 12thLokSabha and 22.40 per cent in the 13thLok Sabha. In the 14th and 15thLok Sabha, at least 30 per cent of the time has been lost to disruptions in session after session.9

• During the first budget session of the 16th Lok Sabha, it worked for 104% of the time available; lesser time lost to disruptions. Both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha sat for the overall scheduled time during the session. Whereas Lok Sabha worked for 104% of the time, Rajya Sabha worked for 106%. Though Rajya Sabha witnessed more disruptions than Lok Sabha, it made up for the lost time by working late on several days.

• The first Budget session of the last Parliament in 2009 also recorded a similar level of productivity. However both the Houses worked for 64% of the time available during the first Budget session of the 14th LokSabha in 2004.

• Compared to the last ten years, the first budget session of 16th Lok Sabha had recorded the second highest productivity, the highest being 110% in the Monsoon session of 2005.The recent monsoon session of the 16thLok Sabha saw a mere 48% productivity while that of Rajya Sabha recorded a new low: a figure of 9%.10

• During the first budget session of the 16th Lok Sabha, it worked for 104% of the time available; lesser time lost to disruptions. Both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha sat for the overall scheduled time during the session. Whereas Lok Sabha worked for 104% of the time, Rajya Sabha worked for 106%. Though Rajya Sabha witnessed more disruptions than Lok Sabha, it made up for the lost time by working late on several days.

• The first Budget session of the last Parliament in 2009 also recorded a similar level of productivity. However both the Houses worked for 64% of the time available during the first Budget session of the 14th LokSabha in 2004.

• Compared to the last ten years, the first budget session of 16th Lok Sabha had recorded the second highest productivity, the highest being 110% in the Monsoon session of 2005.The recent monsoon session of the 16thLok Sabha saw a mere 48% productivity while that of Rajya Sabha recorded a new low: a figure of 9%.10

Whether this was due to the intransigence of an opposition party or due to the obstinacy of the government is a matter for political discussions and debates, but what is appalling is the politicians’ absolute indifference and callous disregard for parliamentary institutions and norms. Also, the total loss to the exchequer has been pegged at Rs 260 crore, by no means a small figure, but this hardly deterred the politicians and the political parties from one-upmanship.

Nevertheless, even these numbers sharply overstate the degree to which Parliament, even when it is officially meeting, actually conducts its business. This is because of a sharp increase in adjournments of the house as a result of disorderly scenes and interruptions.

It is ironical that we wish to be counted among the developed nations but have a Parliament which is on the brink of becoming dysfunctional due to a spate of disruptions, MPs’disdain for parliamentary ethics, contempt for parliamentary duties, disregard towards the Speaker/Chairperson and high absenteeism among others. Hence, it is vital that these issues be addressed urgently. ‘Reforms and urgent remedial action seem imperative for making parliamentary institutions and processes effective and potent instruments of ensuring sustainable economic growth so vital for the success of our economic policies also’.11 ‘Strengthening of Parliament requires an understanding of its institutional design, processes and the issues that need to be addressed’.12 

II. Productivity of Parliament and duration of Parliamentary deliberations etc.

The number of Bills passed by Parliament has declined over the last few decades

•· India’s first 13 Parliaments passed more than 3, 200 bills.13

• The number of Bills passed during the period of the First Lok Sabha aggregated 322 as compared to 179 during the Fifteenth Lok Sabha.

• The 1st Lok Sabha passed an average of 72 Bills each year. This has decreased to 40 Bills a year in the 15th Lok Sabha.14

8. The politics of parliamentary disruption, live mint, Aug 24, 2015, available at (Last visited on Nov 16, 2015)

9. Parliament @60: Time for some stock taking,, May 29, 2012 available at (Last visited on Nov 17, 2015)

10. Session Track, Monsoon Session 2015, available at (Last visited on Nov 18, 2015)

11. A Working Paper on Parliament & Need for Reforms, available at (Last visited on Nov 18, 2015)

12. Rethinking the functioning of Indian Parliament, available at (Last visited on Nov 18, 2015) 13 The Indian Parliament as an Institution of Accountability)- Devesh Kapur and Pratap Bhanu Mehta, 2006, page 16 available at Last visited on Nov 17, 2015)


• Parliament passed 118 Bills in 1976. This was the highest number of Bills passed by Parliament in a single year.

• The lowest number of Bills was passed in 2004. In this year, only 18 Bills were passed by Parliament.15

• During the five year term of the 14th Lok Sabha, Parliament passed 247 Bills.16

• The 16thLokSabha fares slightly better than the previous one so far. In its five sessions 71 bills have been introduced by the government of which 61 have been passed.17

Political instability and a divided Parliament—with the ruling coalition often a minority in the upper house—were the principal causes for the decline in the legislative output over the years. The slower legislative output is one reason why governments have increasingly relied on ordinances for pushing through reforms outside of the usual legislative mechanism. The current government in its one year since coming to power has promulgated 13 ordinances. Taking the ordinance route for pushing down its agenda, however well meaning, erodes the parliamentary processes, of discussions, arguments, debates and opinions on the merits and drawbacks of the proposed legislations.

No Private Members’ Bill has been passed by Parliament since 1970

• Every MP, who is not a Minister, is called a Private Member. Private Members’ Bills are Bills introduced by these MPs.

• In Lok Sabha, the last two and a half hours of a sitting on every Friday are generally allotted for transaction of Private Members’ Business, i.e., Private Members’ Bills and Private Members’ Resolutions.

• Till date, Parliament has passed 14 Private Members’ Bills. Six of these were passed in 1956 alone and the last one was in 1970.

• During the ninth Lok Sabha, 156 Private Members’ Bills were introduced, but only eight came up for discussion, of which seven were withdrawn and the remaining one did not pass.

• In the tenth Lok Sabha (1991–1996) as many as 406 156 Private Members’ Bills  were initiated. Only 31 of these were discussed and none was recommended to any parliamentary committee or passed. Yet, the paradox is that despite no hope of being passed, the number of private members’ bills being introduced is increasing.18

• In the previous term of Parliament, 264 Private Members’ Bills were introduced in Lok Sabha and 160 in Rajya Sabha. Of these, only 14 were discussed in Lok Sabha and 11 in Rajya Sabha.19

• In April 2015, a 156 Private Members’ Bills was passed in Rajya Sabha for the first time in thirty six years, with MPs cutting across party lines to unanimously endorse by voice vote a proposed legislation that aims to promote the rights of transgenders, including reservations and financial aid. 20

14.  60 Years of Parliament, available at (Last visited on Nov 17, 2015)

15. Ibid

16.  Legislative Business in the 14thLokSabha, available at (Last visited on Nov 17, 2015)

17.  5th session of 16th LokSabha- An overview, available at (Last visited on Nov 18, 2015) 

18. The Indian Parliament as an Institution of Accountability)- DeveshKapur and PratapBhanu Mehta, 2006, page 16, available at  (Last visited on Nov 18, 2015)

19.  60 years of Parliament, PRS -May 11, 2012, available at (Last visited on Nov 18, 2015)

20. RajyaSabha passes private bill to protect the rights of transgenders, Indian Express, April 25, 2015, available at 1IGtA5K (Last visited on Nov 18, 2015)

 In the Parliament of UK the number of Private Members’ Bills passed are a small proportion of the number introduced but a lot higher in absolute terms. During 1983-84 to 2012-13, 3177 156 Private Members’ Bills  had been introduced, but only 295 were passed.21In Australia and the US too, the situation is a lot better than India and the Private Members’ Bills have witnessed an increase.


The average time taken by adjournments and adjournment motions is roughly 10% of the proceedings of a typical parliamentary session. The disruption can take many forms: many members speaking simultaneously, the opposition not allowing government ministers to make statements and, increasingly, rushing to the well of the house and shouting down the speaker. Secondly, the disruption of legislative proceedings suggests much of what is apparent during zero hour that Parliament is often a site for grandstanding, rather than disciplined debate.

Over the years, the Parliament too has debated the issue of maintaining discipline and decorum within its precincts. In 1992, Parliament had convened a Special Forum for the sole purpose of discussing this aspect. Also, in 1997, a Special Session was convened, the primary legislative business of which was to pass a unanimous resolution calling for greater discipline within Parliament.

In November 2001, in a major initiative aimed at bringing discipline and decorum to Parliament and legislatures, an all-India conference of presiding officers and parties adopted a 60-point code of conduct guideline aimed at sanctioning grave misconduct with suspension. The resolution was unanimously supported by over 300 leaders from all parties at both the federal and sub national levels. However, when the Prime Minister asked the opposition not to resort to any steps that would erode democratic values, the then Leader of the Opposition, Smt. Sonia Gandhi, immediately disagreed saying that a “great deal of disruption” in Parliament was due to the government’s reluctance to face the houses on controversial matters. Events since then have belied the resolution.22

Question Hour

Question Hour is used by MPs to hold government ministers accountable for the functioning of their ministries. Since parliamentary procedures dictate that the first hour of a sitting has to be question hour, when question hour is disrupted, the opportunity for holding the government accountable is lost. This time is never made up by sitting beyond scheduled time or on Saturdays.23

Rajya Sabha has tried to address this problem in November 2014, when Question Hour was shifted from 11 am to 12 pm. The idea behind the shift was to ensure that the Question Hour, doesn’t get derailed due to disruptions which often coincide with the start of the day’s proceedings.24 While the Rules of Procedures of Rajya Sabha designate the first hour of sitting for Question Hour, they also allow the Chairman of the House to direct otherwise. It is using this Rule that the Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Mr. Hamid Ansari, issued directions for the Question Hour to be shifted to noon.25

21. Summary of public bills introduced since 1983-84;  Parliamentary Information List,  Standard Note: SN/PC/02283 Last updated: 01 July 2013 Author: Department of Information Services) available at  file:///C:/Users/ADMIN/Downloads/SN02283.pdf&embedded=true ( Last visited on Nov 18, 2015) 

22.  Indian Parliament as an Institution of Accountability- Devesh Kapur and Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Jan, 2006, Page 19, available at (Last visited on Nov 18,2015)

23. Rethinking the Functioning of Indian Parliament, Background note for the Conference on Effective Legislatures,  available at (Last visited on Nov 18, 2015)

24. Question Hour timings shifted to noon in RajyaSabha, Times of India, Nov 15, 2014 available at (Last visited on Nov 18, 2015)

25. RajyaSabha extends sitting hours, changes timing of question hour, Trina Roy,  PRS Blog, available at theprsblog/?tag=question-hour  (Last visited on Nov 18, 2015)

Despite the shift in timings, a breakup of the business transacted in Rajya Sabha in the monsoon session, 2015 reveals that a mere 2% of the allotted time was spent in asking questions.26

Moreover, the last decade has seen a decline in the number of questions answered orally on the floor of the House. A look at the Question Hour statistics in Parliament:

• Frequent parliamentary disruptions led to Question Hour being held for 40% of scheduled time in the 15thLokSabha and 43% in Rajya Sabha.

• In the 15thLokSabha, in the Budget session 2012, 656 questions were raised but only 82 answered orally. In the same session in Rajya Sabha 660 questions were raised and 103 answered.27

• The 2014 Budget Session saw both Houses of Parliament work for over hundred percent of their scheduled sitting time. However, while Question Hour functioned for 87% of its scheduled time in Lok Sabha, it functioned for only 40% of its scheduled time in Rajya Sabha. In 13 of the 27 sittings of the 2014 Budget Session, Question Hour in RajyaSabha was adjourned within a few minutes due to disruptions.

• The Question Hour of the first budget session of the 16th Lok Sabha was the most productive compared to the last 10 years. 28

III. Powers of the Speaker in LS and that of the Chairman in RS

The Speaker being the presiding officer of the LokSabha has been vested with several powers to maintain discipline in the House and ensure its dignity. It is his duty to see that the meeting is properly conducted and the rights and privileges of the members protected.

The Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in LokSabha, namely Rules 373 and 374 respectively, confer upon the Speaker the power to order the withdrawal of member and suspend a member. Rule 374 (A) provides for automatic suspension of a member on account of grave disorder occasioned by the member coming into the well of the House or abusing the Rules of the House persistently and wilfully obstructing its business by shouting slogans or otherwise.Rule 375 details the power of the Speaker to adjourn House or suspend any sitting.

Occasions when these powers have been exercised with consequences

Recently, the Lok Sabha Speaker, Smt. Sumitra Mahajan named and suspended 25 Congress Lok Sabha members for five days for “persistently and wilfully obstructing” proceedings in the House by invoking Rule 374(A).  She defended this as a “decision for the future good of Parliament”. She underlined that the “opposition must have its say, but the government also must have a way”.29

This move by the Speaker is not entirely without precedents.  In 2013, the decision of the then Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar to suspend the protesting members of Seemandhra region on two occasions (many of them suspended on both the occasions) resulted in a legal debate on whether the Speaker was really vested with such powers by the Constitution.

26.  Session Track (Monsoon Session  2015), available at (Last visited on Nov 18, 2015)

27. 15th LokSabha, How successful has Question Hour been in Parliament, available at (Last visited on Nov 18, 2015) 

28. Data Charts: This session of Parliament was the most productive since 2005, PI, by PRS, Aug 14, 2014, available at http:/ /  (Last visited on Nov 18, 2015)

29. Parliament Logjam: Suspended 25 MPs for Greater Good, says Sumitra Mahajan, The Indian Express, Aug 4, 2015, available at (Last visited on Nov 18, 2014)

30. Dear Sonia Gandhi, getting suspended from LokSabha is not murder of democracy, first post, Aug 5, 2015, available at http:/ / visited on Nov 19, 2015)

She had suspended the members by invoking this Rule 374 A of the “Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha”. Twelve MPs were suspended on the first occasion and nine on the next instance. In 1989, sixty three opposition MPs were suspended after the then parliamentary affairs minister H K L Bhagat had moved a resolution seeking their suspension for the remainder of the week which amounted to three days.  These members were demanding that the Thakkar Commission report on Indira Gandhi’s assassination be tabled in the Parliament.

In 2005, 11 MPs (mostly from BJP) were expelled from Lok Sabha on cash for query charges.

During 2011-12, 18 MPs from Telangana region from various parties were suspended and seven MPs of SP, JD (U), RJD and LJP were suspended from Rajya Sabha and physically thrown out of the House to facilitate the passing of Women’s Reservation Bill.30

In February 2014, during a heated debate on the creation of Telangana, an MP from Vijaywada, L.Rajagopal, used pepper spray on fellow parliamentarians, to protest the tabling of the ‘Andhra Pradesh Reorganisational Bill’, marking a new low in parliamentary behavior.

Analysis of rule 374 (A)

According to former Lok Sabha Secretary-General and constitutional expert P.D.T. Achary, Rule 374 (A) suffers from Constitutional infirmities. “Under this rule, automatic suspension of members ordered by the Speaker can be rescinded by the House at any time. This provision in a way diminishes the prestige of the Speaker. Rules cannot be made which have the effect of diminishing the prestige of the Speaker.” Rule 374A also went against the established practices and conventions. “The rules so framed are subject to the Constitution. Since the Constitution does not expressly or impliedly vest any penal powers in the Speaker it would be against the spirit of the Constitution to vest such powers in the Speaker.” according to Mr. Achary..31

In 2011-12, seven MPs of SP, JD(U), RJD and LJP were suspended from Rajya Sabha and physically thrown out of the House to facilitate the passing of Women’s Reservation Bill. There have been many other instances when the Upper House has punished members by way of suspension or expulsion.

IV. Disruptions & Disciplinary procedures in other democracies

Parliaments are rich institutional contexts with embedded norms and conventions. Disruptive behavior in each legislative setting will have their own institutional, historical and cultural specificities as to form, severity and frequency of disruption. Individual parliaments may differ in their response to disruptive performances some choosing to punish disruption more severely while others adopting a more accommodative and informal approach. Comparing disruptive acts across different institutions raises the question of why disruptive performances are tolerated in some parliamentary contexts while not in others. Following is an overview of the disciplinary powers of the Speakers and the incidence of parliamentary disruptions in other jurisdictions. 32

31. Speaker’s powers to suspend members “suffers constitutional infirmities”, The Hindu, Sep 10, 2013, available at (Last visited on Nov 19, 2015) 

32. Democracy in Practice: Ceremony and Ritual in Parliament, By Shirin M. Rai

33. Parliamentary procedures for the disciplining and expulsion of Members- Contribution from Ian Harris, Clerk of the House of Representatives (Australia) to the general debate on parliamentary procedures for the expulsion  and disciplining of members, Geneva session, 2007

34. Parliament of Australia, Politics and Administration, available at (Last visited on Nov 19, 2015)

35. Parliament of Australia, Infosheet 3-The Speaker, available at (Last visited on Nov 19, 2015)

1. Australia
The Australian Parliament no longer possesses the power to expel one of its Members.33The authority for the rules of conduct in the House of Representatives is derived from the Australian Constitution. The members themselves have broad responsibility for their behaviour in the House. However, it is the role of the Speaker or the occupier of the Chair to ensure that order is maintained during parliamentary proceedings.34
For a minor infringement a Member may merely be called to order or warned. For a more serious offence, a Member may be ordered to leave the Chamber for one hour (sometimes unofficially referred to as ‘sin binned’) and, for a major offence or persistent defiance of the Chair, a Member may be ‘named’ by the Chair and a motion for the Member’s suspension (usually for 24 hours) may be moved.35 Since its introduction in 1994, the ‘sin bin’ has become the disciplinary action of choice for Speakers.36
No motion or action is required by the House but if a member fails to leave the Chamber immediately or continues to behave in a disorderly manner they may be named and the House can then suspend them.37  Between 1901 and 1913, there have been 1, 352 instances of disorderly behaviour in the House of Representatives. 38
2. United Kingdom
The House of Commons’ ultimate power of discipline over one of its own Members is expulsion, thereby creating a vacancy and subsequent by-election in that Member’s constituency.39
The British Speaker has wide powers to check disorder, irrelevant speech and unparliamentary language and behavior.40 If a situation of grave disorder arises in the House, the Speaker may, adjourn the House without question or suspend the sitting until a time of his or her choosing. Suspensions of sittings are of varying length - in the past they have been of between 10 and 30 minutes.41
Mrs Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister was one marked by high disruptiveness in the House of Commons compared to the decades before and after. There were more suspensions of the Sittings and more punishments meted out to individual MPs than at any other time in modern British politics. The 1990s and 2000s were marked by a relative lack of disruptions in Commons, probably because the dominant parties represented in the House of Commons were constitutional parties, who accepted the importance of procedural conformity and members are constrained by a belief system about the propriety of adherence to the rules of the House. 42
3. United States of America
Obstructing the work of Congress is a crime under federal law and is known as contempt of Congress. Each chamber has the power to hold individuals for contempt, but can only issue a contempt citation, with the judicial system pursuing the matter like a normal criminal case, and in case convicted, any individual

36. Supra 46(Parliament of Australia) 

37. Ibid

38. Ibid

39. Disciplinary and Penal Powers of the House Department House of Commons ,UK, Fact sheet, sep, 2010, available at http:/ /  (Last visited on Nov19, 2015)

40. World Constitution - A Comparative Study: Political Science, By VishnooBhagwan, VidyaBhushan 

41. (Disciplinary and Penal Powers of the House Department House of Commons ,UK, Fact sheet, sep,2010

42. Democracy in Practice: Ceremony and Ritual in Parliament,  by Shirin M. Rai, available at, (Last visited on Oct 28, 2015)

found guilty of contempt of Congress may be punishable by a maximum $100,000 fine and a maximum one-year sentence in federal prison.43

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, unlike Indian, Australian & British speakers, does not possess disciplinary powers over members of the House. He cannot expel a member who is rowdy and does not obey the Chair. Only the House can take action against the recalcitrant member.

The United States has a rich history of legislative violence on both Capitol Hill and in the various states’ assemblies. A more discreet form of parliamentary disruption takes place quite regularly via the Senate practice called a filibuster. Used to this day, a filibuster involves a Senator speaking endlessly, on and on, until the time set down for the debate runs out. The record is held by the late and then-Democratic Senator, Strom Thurmond, who spoke in 1957 against the Civil Rights Act for 24 hours and 18 minutes. A process known as ‘Cloture’ is used to bring the filibuster to an end, but while it’s underway it’s as disruptive as any regular brawl. Thurmond’s filibuster had no effect – the Civil Rights Act passed anyway.44


In this study we have attempted to collate facts and figures about the functioning of the Indian Parliament. The trends show that the sheer frequency of disruptions and non- functionality has surpassed all norms of even a boisterous and chaotic democracy, and that the intransigence is fast leading to a parliamentary paralysis inimical to any country’s interests.

While the Australian Parliament does not sanction expulsions any longer, the British and US Houses do, but the kind of en masse disruptions, rowdiness, irreverence and logjams which the Indian Parliamentarians and Legislators subject their august Houses to, is unbecoming of a country aspiring to emerge as an economic superpower.

Even if one were to grant that political clashes and disruptions could be a result of legitimate disagreements on government policies or a rebuff to unilateral decisions, the nation cannot allow that at the cost of the public faith in the institution of Parliament. The onus is on all political parties and parliamentary institutions to manage dissent in order to minimize disruptions. The parties and their leaders should not be allowed to reverse roles on the basis of winning or losing elections. In the 15th Lok Sabha, the Opposition endorsed parliamentary obstructionism as a legitimate parliamentary tactic and the blame game replicates in the 16th.

One possible solution is a law, maybe even a constitutional amendment, to prevent obstructions to lawmaking processes even though it is fraught with problems. It must be noted that punitive measures, don’t always have a restraining influence as the main opposition party, the Indian national Congress (INC), demonstrated in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha in the monsoon session 2015.

Another possible solution, going by the global experiences, is reserving a day in the week for the Opposition to set the agenda for Parliament. This is the custom in the UK Parliament – 20 days of every session has the Opposition spell out the parliamentary agenda. Out of these 20 days, 17 are assigned to the principal Opposition party and the remaining three to the others. In Canada, the Opposition sets the parliamentary agenda on 22 days every calendar year.

The advantages of this mechanism are evident– the government can’t shy away from discussing issues inconvenient to it; the Opposition won’t be smarting as it would get ample opportunities to vent its

43. What is contempt of Congress, Politics on, available at (Last visited on Oct 28, 2015)

44. Parliamentary Disruptions- Chris Gibbons, Aug 28, 2015, available at  (Last visited on Nov 19, 2015)

45. The Parliament Logjam, The Kashmir Monitor, Aug 11, 2015  (Last visited on Nov 19, 2015)

anger or put the government in the dock. At least, on all other days, the legislative work of Parliament won’t suffer, and bills won’t be passed in a hurry without adequate discussion.

Yet another solution could be to spread out the parliamentary proceedings to round-the-year, Monday to Friday, instead of the three sessions, as is the current practice. Episodic meetings are bound to create episodes, so to speak. Parliamentarians want to appropriate time to raise issues dear to them. These are not necessarily the priorities of the government, which might be keener on creating a legislative framework for executing its policies in the limited time it has than, say, discussing a railway accident. It is this divergence of views which leads to deadlocks’.45

However, no mechanism can ever reverse the declining performance of Parliament as long as there is no consensus on the issue that a minister on facing charges of impropriety, financial or otherwise, ought to resign first before being proven innocent. The other view is that this obviously goes against the principle, ‘innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.’ A major problem is that the ruling parties do their best to reason but are caught doing the same thing they abhor while in the Opposition. Hence, deadlocks are inevitable unless some consensual ground rules are made by all political parties. It is also about political outfits rising above their narrow interests to maintain high ethical standards.

That the onus is on the political parties is clear by the fact that even the Supreme Court refused to be drawn into this debate when it dismissed a petition in August 2015, which had sought guidelines to end the logjam on the ground that intervention in the parliamentary affairs would amount to crossing the ‘lakshmanrekha’. 


Ms. Anumeha is a Research Executive in Common Cause

Volume: Vol. XXXIV No. 3
July- Sep, 2015