Lok Sabha Speaker vs Opposition: Controversy Over Muting Mics Explained

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Lok Sabha Speaker vs Opposition: Controversy Over Muting Mics Explained Blog Image

What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in News?
  • Who controls the mic in Parliament?
  • Previous row over muting mics
  • Muting Mics and breach of privilege

Why in News?

In the new Parliament Session, Leader of the Opposition Rahul Gandhi claimed for the second time that his microphone had been switched off during his address. 

Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, however, clarified that presiding officers do not have any means to turn off members' microphones and objected to accusations against the Chair.

Who controls the mic in Parliament?

  • Microphone and Switch System in the House
    • Each MP has an assigned seat in the House. All the members have a microphone and switch set at their specific desks with allocated numbers.
    • According to the manual released by the Lok Sabha Secretariat in May 2014, the switch board has multiple switches in different colours.
  • Activation of mic when an MP wants to speak
    • If an MP wants to speak in the House, they can raise their hand to notify the presiding officer and press the grey button.
    • The LED on microphones turns red when the mic is activated.
    • The microphone is activated from the control room only when the member has been permitted by the Speaker to speak.
  • Control Room Operations
    • As per various media reports, both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have a chamber for sound technicians, who are part of the staff that transcribes and records the proceedings of Parliament.
    • The chamber has an electronic board with assigned seat numbers of the members.
    • Mics are turned on and off from this room, which has a glass facade through which the staff can see the presiding officers and the MPs.
    • Microphones are activated under the directions of the Chair of the Rajya Sabha/Lok Sabha. They are only turned on when a member is called by the Chair.
      • A member’s mic might be switched off if it is not their turn to speak.
  • Speaking Rules and Time Limits
    • In the Zero Hour, a three-minute time limit is given to a member, and when the three minutes are over, the microphone is automatically switched off.
    • In cases of debates on bills, time is allocated for each party. The Chair adheres to this time and, at its discretion, grants one or two minutes for a member to complete.
    • Only the Lok Sabha Speaker and Rajya Sabha Chairman can direct the switching on and off of mics in special circumstances.
  • In case of Special Mentions
    • In the case of Special Mentions, MPs have a limit of reading out 250 words. The moment it is read by the member, the microphone is switched off by the staff in the chamber.
      • Special Mentions allow Members of Parliament (MPs) to raise matters of public importance or grievances in the House without prior notice.
      • These mentions are used for issues that require the immediate attention of the government or the public.

Previous row over muting mics

  • Last week, Rahul Gandhi claimed that his microphone was switched off as he tried to raise the issue of NEET irregularities.
  • In July 2023, Congress chief and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, claimed that his microphone was switched off while he was speaking in the upper house. 
  • He described this incident as a breach of his privilege and an insult to his self-respect.

Muting Mics and breach of privilege

  • Constitutional Provisions
    • Article 105: Defines the powers, privileges, and immunities of Parliament, its members, and committees.
    • Article 194: Defines similar powers, privileges, and immunities for State Legislatures, their members, and committees.
    • It is considered a breach of privilege and contempt of the House to make speeches or publish libel that reflects on the character or proceedings of the House, its committees, or any member related to their character or conduct as a legislator.
  • Lack of codification
    • The Constitution has accorded special privileges and powers to parliamentarians and legislators so as to maintain the dignity and authority of the Houses.
    • However, these powers and privileges are not codified. 
    • Thus, there are no clear, notified rules to decide what constitutes a breach of privilege, and the punishment it attracts.

Q.1. What is Zero Hour in Indian Parliament?

Zero Hour in the Indian Parliament is the time immediately following the Question Hour, during which Members of Parliament can raise matters of urgent public importance without prior notice. 

Q.2. What are Special Mentions?

Special Mentions allow Members of Parliament (MPs) to raise matters of public importance or grievances in the House without prior notice. These mentions are used for issues that require the immediate attention of the government or the public.

Source: Decode Politics: Rahul Gandhi, Om Birla again face off over Parliament mics. Who controls them? | First Post