A united Opposition on Wednesday had a face-off with the government over the triple talaq bill in the Rajya Sabha and stalled a debate on it insisting that it should be sent to a select panel, as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party strongly sought its expeditious passage to stop the unlawful practice.
Amid noisy scenes, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad introduced the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017 for discussion and passage, but pandemonium broke out in the Upper House with the opposition creating an uproar and the BJP countering it vociferously.
The House, which had met at 3 pm after witnessing three adjournments over the Maharashtra caste violence, also witnessed procedural wrangling from both sides.
The bill, which seeks to make instant triple talaq illegal with up to three years in jail for the husband, was passed in the Lok Sabha on December 28.
While the government emphasised the need to pass the bill on an urgent basis citing a Supreme Court judgment pronouncing triple talaq as unconstitutional, the Opposition countered it saying the views of various stakeholders must be taken by the select panel.
While supporting the bill, the opposition parties especially those from the Congress, Trinamool Congress and Samajwadi Party, insisted that it be referred to a select panel for further scrutiny.
As heated exchanges continued despite warnings and appeals, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien adjourned the House for the day, without giving any ruling on the validity of the opposition’s motion on the select panel.
Terming it “a historic bill”, Prasad said the Supreme Court on August 22 “called triple talaq as unconstitutional... The judges appealed to Parliament to come out with a law. Until then, it stopped the practice for six months. Even after Lok Sabha passing it, triple talaq is being given.”
Appealing for its expeditious passage, the minister also said that the Congress had supported the bill in the Lower House and asked it to clear its position here.
However, the Opposition remained adamant on its demand for setting up of a select committee, with Congress Deputy Leader Anand Sharma moving a resolution to this effect.
Sharma gave a list of opposition members to be part of the proposed select committee and asked the ruling party to suggest its names to the panel, which should give its report in the first week of the Budget Session.
Besides Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Trinamool Congress, the names proposed by Sharma for the panel included leaders of AIADMK, BSP, DMK, NCP, CPI, CPI(M), TDP, RJD, BJD, JMM, IUML and nominated member KTS Tulsi. The Congress leader, along with Derek O’Brien of the TMC, also insisted that the resolution on sending the bill to a select panel be put to vote in the House and a division was sought.
Dubbing Sharma’s motion to set up a select committee as “invalid”, Leader of the House Arun Jaitley objected to the procedure followed by him, saying Rule 70 (sub-rule 2a) cited by Sharma was not applicable here because the bill did not
orginate from the Upper House. It originated in the Lok Sabha and was transmitted to the Rajya Sabha.
The other objection Jaitley raised was that the notice for setting up of a select panel was not given before, thereby breaking the parliamentary procedure.
Not only the names given for the proposed panel were proportionate to the strength of the parties represented in the House but the consent of these members was also not taken, he claimed.
“Now, we are taken by surprise that we all assemble here after 3 pm, a motion is suddenly submitted to us. For the first time breaking all parliamentary convention and procedures, an invalid motion is moved,” Jaitley said.
Citing reasons for the urgency of the bill to be passed to end the unlawful practice, Jaitley explained why the bill should not be referred to a select panel.
“The practice (of triple talaq) was declared unconstitutional on August 22. Two of the judges... held the practice to be unfair. They used their extraordinary power to suspend this practice for six months. Those six months expires on February 22.
“They said we (court) besiege all political parties to come out with an appropriate legislation. Therefore, there is an urgency which the country expects from Parliament and the urgency is that the practice is unlawful,” Jaitley said.
The minister further said that some people have said that “we will defy the judgment and resort to this practice. So, the legislature must act with responsibility and act expeditiously and give it a legislative face.”
Hitting out at Congress, Jaitley said, “The whole country is watching that in the other House you supported the bill and here you are trying to derail it” and sought a ruling from the chair on this matter.
Countering Jaitley’s views, Congress leader Kapil Sibal said the minister referred to a minority judgment of the Supreme Court on the issue while there was no mention of urgency in the majority judgment of the apex court.
As unruly scenes continued, the ruling party members including ministers were up on their feet and asked, “Is it wrong to give respect to women?”
Responding to them, Sharma said the Congress respects the women’s rights and supports the bill. “We are not opposing, we are supporting it. We are not hypocrites. We want to ensure the bill goes through legislative scrutiny.”
He also chided the ruling party for claiming to the champion of the women’s cause but not bringing the women’s reservation bill.
As noisy scenes and sloganeering continued forcing the chair to finally adjourn the House for the day.
Image used for representational purposes only. Photograph: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters