In the Rajya Sabha, Rule 267 vs Rule 176: Why BJP is so keen on Rule 176

Rule 176 of the Rajya Sabha allows only 30–45 minutes of discussion with just 4–5 MPs able to speak; Rule 267 allows suspension of the day’s business to centre the discussion

Representative image of a gavel (photo: IANS)
Representative image of a gavel (photo: IANS)

NH Political Bureau

BJP leaders are being "too clever by half" in pushing for a discussion on Manipur under Rule 176 instead of Rule 267 in the Rajya Sabha, points out former home minister and veteran parliamentarian P. Chidambaram.

The government and the prime minister, he says, are shying away from a longer and fuller discussion on Manipur. The prime minister does not want to make a statement in Parliament, but the 36 seconds he devoted the matter at the start of the session for the media did mention violence against and sexual abuse of "women in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Manipur"—and that informal conversation is being passed off as his 'statement' on Manipur.

Did the prime minister say what went wrong in Manipur? Did he provide facts and figures? Did he hold anyone accountable, any minister or official? Pretending that he knew nothing much about the situation in Manipur until the viral video showing naked women being paraded by a mob went public, and then voicing his outrage on the 78th day of the ethnic clashes is not the same as making a statement in Parliament, Chidambaram elaborated in a TV interview.

On Monday, July 24, Rajya Sabha chairman and vice-president of India Jagdeep Dhankar informed the House that he had received 11 notices for discussion under Rule 176, which he had accepted and to which leader of the House Piyush Goyal had agreed.

He also received 27 notices for a discussion on Manipur under Rule 267, which he disallowed or which are still 'under consideration'. While Dhankar read out the names and party affiliations of the MPs who wanted the discussion under Rule 176, he read out only the names of the MPs who sought discussion under Rule 267—leading to a spat with All India Trinamool Congress member Derek O’Brien and the adjournment of the House.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge also pointed out, “It is shameful that the prime minister is making a statement outside the House when Parliament is in session. It is his duty to make a comprehensive statement inside the Parliament on [the] Manipur violence. Therefore, we are requesting the chairman of [the] Rajya Sabha and the speaker of [the] Lok Sabha that the PM should make a statement on what is the situation in Manipur.”

Under Rule 267, unlike Rule 176, the discussion can be long, can continue beyond the scheduled time and also end with voting—none of which is, clearly, acceptable to the BJP in the House.

The rules of both the houses leave it to the discretion of the Rajya Sabha chairman and the Lok Sabha speaker to accept or reject the notices for discussion—which can be half-hour discussions, short-duration discussions or longer discussions. The longer, full-fledged discussions have been allowed only sparingly in the past.

There were 11 instances between 1990 and 2016 where Rule 267 was invoked for various discussions.

The last instance was in 2016, when then-chairman Hamid Ansari allowed a debate on the “demonetisation of currency”. Dhankhar argues that his predecessor Venkaiah Naidu had not accepted a single notice under the rule during his six-year term. However, he also admitted that previous chairpersons have accepted notices under this rule.

Then-vice president Shankar Dayal Sharma accepted four such notices under Rule 267 between 1990 and 1992 , Bhairon Singh Shekhawat accepted three and Hamid Ansari four, as Dhankar acknowledged.

Rule 267 has been invoked for a variety of topics, including the Gulf War in 1991, debates on the role of the CBI in the 'coalgate' scam, an “attack on the secular fabric of the country” and the “agrarian crisis”. The current chairman, however, has gone on record to say that Rule 267 has become a mechanism to disrupt the functioning of the House.

The Lok Sabha has its own rules and provides for both short duration discussions as well as adjournment motions.

The question is, whether the presiding officers should accept the notices for a full fledged discussion for a day or risk washing out the entire session by allowing the government and the opposition to dig their heels in on their respective stands.

The presiding officers should also weigh in whether the crisis in Manipur is serious enough to require a comprehensive statement by the PM in parliament and a fuller discussion. The opposition believes that the situation is grave. As many as 160 lives have been lost officially. The chief minister has admitted to collapse of law and order and the existence of hundreds of videos on atrocities on women during the almost three-month-long crisis.

Is the situation even comparable to women’s safety in West Bengal, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, UP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh?

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