BJP MP’s remarks expunged, restored: What is expunging, how the process works

Dubey had said in the Lok Sabha on Monday that Congress, NewsClick and two journalists were linked to China “by an umbilical cord”. Congress had called the comments baseless and libellous. While the remarks were expunged from Parliament records, they were restored on the House website late evening.

When can remarks or words spoken in Parliament be expunged, and what is the process to do so? How relevant is expunging in the age of instant videos and social media?

The process of expunging

The expunging of certain words, sentences, or portions of a speech from the records is a fairly routine procedure. The decision on which parts of the proceedings are to be expunged lies with the Presiding Officer of the House. The provision was introduced to make sure the freedom of speech guaranteed inside Parliament is not misused.

Under Article 105(2) of the Constitution, “no Member of Parliament shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said…in Parliament or any committee thereof”. However, this does not mean MPs can say whatever they want inside the House.

The speech of MPs is subject to the discipline of the Rules of Parliament, “good sense” of its Members, and the control of proceedings by the Speaker. These checks ensure that MPs cannot use “defamatory or indecent or undignified or unparliamentary words” inside the House.

Rule 380 (“Expunction”) of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha says: “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.”

Rule 381 says: “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’.”

How is the decision to expunge taken?

K Srinivasan, former director, Lok Sabha Secretariat, had earlier told The Indian Express, “If a member uses a word that could be unparliamentary or indecent and hurts the decorum or dignity of the House, the head of the reporting section sends it to the Speaker or the Presiding Officer citing relevant rules and precedence with a recommendation to expunge them.”

The Speaker has the discretion under Rule 380 to expunge the word or usage. Once the Speaker expunges the word or usage, it comes back to the reporting section which removes the word from the records and mentions in the proceedings as “expunged as ordered by the chair”.

At the end of the session, a compilation of words removed from the records, along with reasons, is sent to the Speaker’s office, Sansad TV, and the editorial service for information.

The context in which a word or sentence is used is key to making the decision on whether to expunge, Srinivasan had said.

In the recent fracas, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla has said that the Chair is supreme and also has the power to restore expunged remarks. “Whoever sits in the Chair has the power to do so,” Birla said.

What happens after a word has been expunged?

Expunged portions of the proceedings cease to exist in the records of Parliament, and they can no longer be reported by media houses, even though they may have been heard during the live telecast of the proceedings.

However, the proliferation of social media has introduced challenges in the watertight implementation of expunction orders.

Chakshu Roy, Head of Outreach at PRS Legislative Research, wrote for The Indian Express earlier this year, “When presiding officers delete words or sections of speech, they are no longer part of Parliament’s record. In the present technological landscape, it creates a peculiar situation. When there is a live telecast of Parliament’s proceedings, people watch, tweet, and record it. And by the time Parliament updates its record, the deleted parts have already been circulated and shared extensively on social media.

This creates a disconnect between the speeches in the parliamentary record and the publicly available version online. It also means that every individual (including MPs) who shared the speech as was delivered by an MP on the floor of the House is in breach of the privilege of Parliament. Both these outcomes have an impact on the institution’s image.”

This situation also leads to the question — if people have already seen, recorded, and reported on the speech, how much of an impact does expunction have? On this, Derek O’Brien, TMC leader and Rajya Sabha MP, wrote in The Indian Express, “In an age of WhatsApp videos, YouTube feeds…interventions made by MPs on the floor of Parliament spread very quickly. So why do Members of Parliament get outraged when words they use inside the House are “expunged” from the records? Reason: Once removed (expunged), they don’t remain part of the parliamentary proceedings. That’s the big issue.”

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