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Rahul Gandhi Lok Sabha speech: Is there efficacy of expunction in the era of live telecast, digital media?

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As Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla expunged portions of Rahul Gandhi’s speech, questions were raised over the efficacy of this move in times of live telecast and digital media.

Rule 380 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha vests the Speaker with power to order expunction of words – which in his opinion are “defamatory, or indecent or unparliamentary or undignified” – from the proceedings of the House.

Birla ordering expunction of Gandhi’s remarks, including on Hinduism, means that parts of the speech will not be included in official record. It also means that expunged parts will be erased from video recordings of Lok Sabha TV. This is done to make it consistent with the official printed version. So while Gandhi may have scored immediate political brownie points with his speech in Lok Sabha, the expunction will mean that official records will not reflect the deleted portions.

In times when elections are also fought on social media, does the official record matter? It does, say experts. Expunction means criminal proceedings can be initiated if these are carried and the House can order them to be taken down. Any TV channel or digital media platform can be ordered to take down the expunged parts.

Ravindra Garimella, former joint secretary (legislation) Lok Sabha Secretariat, told ET: “Once it is expunged from the record, no TV channel or media outlet can carry it. If any newspaper or media carries the expunged part, it is held as breach of privilege of the House and contempt proceedings can be initiated.” A member can move a breach of privilege motion and proceedings can be initiated against any individual for this breach. The expulsion of Mohua Moitra is a case in point on how far reaching ‘contempt of House’ proceedings can be. Garimella says a breach of privilege can mean an individual can even be sent to jail without the involvement of the court.The most famous case of breach of privilege is of 1964 when Keshav Singh circulated a pamphlet against a UP MLA. The assembly Speaker issued a breach of privilege notice against Singh and later arrested him for a week. When Allahabad High Court ordered Singh’s release, the UP assembly initiated breach of privilege proceedings against the two judges. The Supreme Court intervened and ruled that legislative privileges are not absolute. Garimella points out that they are still farreaching if the presiding officer wants.