Parliament saw a stormy exchange of words earlier this week as Smriti Irani put up a strongly-worded defence of the Human Resource Development Ministry, which she heads, for its handling of the protests at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. As with most heated exchanges of words in Parliament, a lot was said on the floor of the House which was not permitted to go on record as per the existing rules of procedure. But while there was much expunging that took place, there were questions over whether political decisions had a part to play in which words got out of the records.
A report in The Indian Express pointed out that while references to the RSS, Delhi MLA OP Sharma were expunged, the references to JNU students who have been accused of sedition remained on record. Section 352 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business for the Lok Sabha deals with regulations on what cannot be said on the floor of the House. Members are disallowed from making a personal reference while making an allegation against another member of the House, which can explain the decision to expunge the references to Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, and OP Sharma. However, it was not clear why the reference to the RSS, which is not (officially) a political organisation was removed.
On the other hand, the rules specifically state that members should not 'refer to any matter of fact on which a judicial decision is pending.' With not even a chargesheet having been filed as yet against the JNU students, the case would appear to fall squarely within this restriction. In fact, even Home Minister Rajnath Singh, speaking in Parliament later in the day, said that.
Further, section 353 says, "No allegation of a defamatory or incriminatory nature shall be made by a member against any person unless the member has given adequate advance notice to the Speaker and also to the Minister concerned so that the Minister may be able to make an investigation into the matter for the purpose of a reply."
The official spokesperson for the Lok Sabha secretariat was quoted as saying by Catch News as the students were named as the 'context in which the minister listed their names' was relevant. On the other hand, the word RSS was said to have been expunged because of its 'context' and not the word per se.
However, the rules of procedure do not make any exception of 'relevant context' allowing names to be mentioned in pending judicial cases.
Another comment by Smriti Irani during his speech, during a reference to Rohith Vemula's death, has come under controversy after questions of factual accuracy were raised. Smriti Irani had claimed that a doctor had not been allowed near Rohith's body and that there had been no attempt to revive him. Reacting to her speech, the chief medical officer had said that she was called in moments after Rohith was found, and that he had been dead for at least two hours, as reported by NDTV.
While Smriti Irani had impressed some with her fiery oratory during her speech in Parliament, she appears to now be under the scanner for ignoring Parliamentary procedure and making factually inaccurate statements.