Giving in to the demand made by legislators, the state government has suspended police sub-inspector Sachin Suryavanshi for rude behaviour with MLA Kshitij Thakur. According to home minister RR Patil, Suryavanshi was found to be arrogant while dealing with the MLA, whose vehicle had violated a traffic rule on the Bandra-Worli sea link. Suryavanshi will also have to face charges for breach of privilege of a legislator. The legislature has also appointed a committee under its seniormost MLA Ganpatrao Deshmukh to probe the March 19 incident, in which Suryavanshi was beaten up in the Vidhan Bhavan premises, a brawl reminiscent of those witnessed in Mumbai’s slums.
One can only hope that the committee led by Deshmukh — who is known to be an upright and honest legislator respected by all parties — will find out what exactly happened and who was to be blamed for the episode.
The incident has damaged the reputation of the state legislature — an institution with a reputation for enacting trend-setting laws such as the one that gave birth to the Employment Guarantee Scheme (which was picked up by the Centre and became a flagship UPA scheme owing to its success) and a policy giving equal rights to women.
State Assembly speaker Dilip Walse-Patil was so saddened by the incident that he immediately apologised to the people of the state. While this kind of gesture was worth appreciating, a significant aspect of the whole episode did not get enough attention — the privileges of the members of the state legislature. The Suryavanshi episode started because Thakur thought that the sub-inspector’s behaviour had breached the privilege that he enjoys as member of the legislature.
Motion against Suryavanshi have been already moved in both the houses of the legislature. In addition to this, similar breach of privilege motion has also been adopted against editors of two Marathi channels for using language that the legislators claimed was insulting.
For years, there have been debates over the special rights given to our elected representatives for discharge of their duties. The privileges were basically granted by the Constitution to the lawmakers so that they could do their work without any threat of lawsuits or other action. That is why the proceedings of the legislature cannot be challenged in a court. But, over the years, there has been a demand by activists and the media to re-look at the issue.
Almost in every session, legislators move breach of privilege motion — mostly against government officers and police personnel for insulting them or behaving arrogantly with them. Sometimes they are filed against railway officers for rude behaviour with elected representatives. These notices are then sent to the breach of privilege committee that conducts hearing and decides whether the accused should be sent to jail or should be let off with a warning.
Probably, it is right time to take a look at the issue of special rights of the lawmakers and what exactly causes its breach.
In an age when Right to Information Act has become a powerful tool in the hands of common man and when the Centre is bringing in law to make the government more accountable, isn’t it obvious that the legislature take a fresh look at the special rights granted to its members?