Om Birla’s Controversial Stewardship as Lok Sabha Speaker: A Review of Events and Challenges During His Second Term

From managing security breaches in the Parliament to overseeing the functioning of key committees like the Rules Committee, his leadership has faced scrutiny and critique.
During his previous term, the House witnessed chaotic scenes and protests that led to bills being passed without proper debate or voting.
During his previous term, the House witnessed chaotic scenes and protests that led to bills being passed without proper debate or voting.

New Delhi: Rajasthan’s Kota MP Om Birla was appointed as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha for the second consecutive term on June 26.

During his tenure as the Speaker of the House of People from 2019 to 2024 has been marked by significant events and decisions that have shaped parliamentary discourse and operations. 

From managing security breaches in the Parliament to overseeing the functioning of key committees like the Rules Committee, his leadership has faced scrutiny and critique.

Following a breach of Parliament security in December last year when two men with smoke canisters jumped into the Lok Sabha chamber from the visitors’ gallery, despite demands from Opposition MPs for a debate on the incident, Birla did not permit it. He rather suspended 99 Opposition MPs for protesting against his decision.

The Speaker serves as the chairman of the Rules Committee of the Lok Sabha. From 2019 to 2022, the committee did not convene for any meetings, and between 2022 and 2024, it held only one meeting.

This lapse is significant because during the COVID-19 pandemic, many parliaments worldwide adapted by conducting hybrid or virtual sessions, committee meetings and enabling remote voting on bills. 

However, when Indian MPs criticized the absence of such adaptations, the Speaker explained in an interview that rule changes for virtual meetings required discussion by the Rules Committee. 

Notably, he did not acknowledge that the Rules Committee, which he chairs, had not met since its establishment in 2019.

This raises questions about his role in initiating meetings and discussing crucial matters within the committee he leads.

Under his leadership, questions posed by suspended MPs were expunged from the records, allowing the government to evade responding to them. Importantly, there is no specific Lok Sabha rule that sanctions this “undemocratic” practice.

Throughout his tenure, the percentage of bills referred to parliamentary committees reached an all-time low of just 16%.

As the Speaker, he had the authority to press the government to refer more bills to parliamentary committees, especially in response to repeated demands from the Opposition, yet he did do so — or perhaps did not want to do so.

Under his supervision, there were numerous instances of censorship of the Opposition by the Sansad TV. On March 17, 2023, during a heated protest by the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the Speaker appeared indifferent as the Sansad TV muted the proceedings for 10 minutes. When unmuted briefly, slogans such as ‘Adani Sarkar, Haaye, Haaye’ (Adani government down down) and ‘Rahul Ko Bolne Do’ (Let Rahul Gandhi speak) could be heard before being muted again. The proceedings were eventually adjourned for the day by the Speaker.

During his tenure, the House witnessed chaotic scenes and protests that led to bills being passed without proper debate or voting. In the Monsoon Session of 2021, despite protests from the Opposition demanding debates on issues like the Pegasus snooping scandal and farmers’ protests, the Lok Sabha managed to clear 18 bills. The average time spent on each bill was minimal, often as little as 5 to 6 minutes, with some bills being passed in just 15 minutes amid the uproar.

No bill can be passed in the midst of protests and chaos in the House, or without proper debate and voting, unless the Speaker allows it to proceed.

In the Monsoon Session of 2023, the Lok Sabha swiftly passed seven bills in just one week, averaging a mere 21 minutes of debate per bill. Notably, the controversial Forest Conservation Amendment Bill was approved in just 33 minutes, with only four MPs speaking.

Similarly, the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill received minimal debate in the Lok Sabha, lasting only 40 minutes and involving just eight MPs. In the Rajya Sabha, despite protests from the Opposition regarding the Manipur crisis and calls for debate, the DPDP Bill was discussed for a mere 50 minutes, with no Opposition MPs participating.

The session saw a new record in the Rajya Sabha, where the Pharmacy (Amendment) Bill was passed in an astonishing three minutes. The following day, the Lok Sabha cleared two significant bills — the Central GST Amendment and the Integrated GST Amendment Bill — in similarly swift proceedings of just three minutes each.

In December 2021, amid chaotic scenes where discussions were barely audible, the Election Laws Amendment Bill was hurriedly passed. MPs were allotted less than 30 minutes for discussion, restricted to speaking for no more than a minute and barred from moving amendments. 

During the same session, amidst protests and vocal objections, the Lok Sabha proceeded to vote on the Post Office Bill 2023. Despite several MPs attempting to introduce amendments, these were not put to vote and were defeated by a voice vote.

As chairman of the Business Advisory Committee responsible for setting the House agenda daily, the Speaker holds significant authority. However, the government frequently deviates from the agreed-upon agenda, introducing bills unexpectedly. Despite having the power to waive certain procedural requirements, the Speaker often allows such deviations.

For instance, in the Winter Session of 2021, the government swiftly pushed through the Election Laws Amendment Bill, which included provisions for Aadhaar-voter ID linking, immediately upon its introduction. MPs were given no time to adequately prepare for debate. The bill was subsequently debated in the Rajya Sabha the following day, with MPs alleging they were not informed in advance of its consideration.

During the Monsoon Session of 2023, three criminal laws amendment bills were unexpectedly introduced on the session’s final day. Similarly, in the Winter Session of 2023, the Telecommunications Bill was added to the agenda abruptly at the last minute.

In the government’s final Parliament session before the general elections, on February 5, 2023, three additional bills were introduced after being suddenly included in the agenda. Originally, the government had planned to address only three bills in its agenda. However, beyond introducing three new bills not originally listed, the government also prioritized at least two bills from previous sessions that were pending, which were not part of its initial agenda.

While the government holds the prerogative to determine session schedules and durations, once a session commences, it traditionally cannot be abruptly adjourned without consultation with the Speaker and ideally the entire House. However, Birla allowed the government to adjourn sessions prematurely on multiple occasions without adequate explanation.

Between 2020 and 2022, seven consecutive sessions were adjourned ahead of schedule. This trend continued in the Special Session and the Winter Session of 2023. 

When sessions conclude prematurely, all pending questions for the remaining days are nullified, depriving MPs of opportunities to address pressing public concerns on the parliamentary floor. Consequently, Parliament often functions more as a platform to advance the ruling party’s agenda rather than to engage in meaningful debates on critical public issues.

As Birla assumes the role of Speaker once again, it remains to be seen whether there will be any changes to this pattern or if the status quo will prevail.

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