The Privileges Committee of Lok Sabha is toying with the idea of codifying the privileges of MPs and looking into the issue of the procedure to be followed
when outside agencies, including individuals, seek access to parliamentary papers.
The 15-member committee is chaired by Congress member V Kishore Chandra S Deo.
The reported move comes in the backdrop of two major developments. The first is the passage of the Right to Information Act that allows citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities. The second relates to the issues raised, for instance, by the Supreme Court's directive to the
Government to place in a "sealed cover" a copy of the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee which is looking into the bill that seeks to provide 27 per cent reservation to Other Backward Classes in
admission to central educational institutions.
But reports of the Standing Committee have to be first tabled in the House before they can be made public.
Among the issues the panel will have to grapple with is whether Parliament should provide copies of a speech with or without the portions that have been
expunged (but which have been telecast live) and whether information about assets and liabilities that a member gives in a sealed cover to the Speaker can be claimed by a petitioner under the RTI.
A questionnaire is expected to be circulated among members and placed on the website and in newspapers to seek a wider feedback on the issue.
As for codifying the privileges of members, the panel is likely to get in touch with the Parliaments of countries like Britain and Australia which have undertaken the exercise of codifying the privileges of their MPs.
An attempt was made by the Indian Parliament in 1994 to codify the privileges of MPs and a report placed in Parliament. It was, however, rejected. The issue is
now likely to be revisited.
"There is need to remove the confusion among people that an MP is a law unto himself when in reality his privilege pertains only to his or her functioning as a
member of Parliament. There is also need to remove the apprehension that the panel will misuse its authority," said an MP.
So far, the Lok Sabha, has through the privileges committee or special panels, taken action against MPs and other individuals in half a dozen cases. These
include expelling HG Mudgal, who was hauled up in a corruption case, Indira Gandhi, for preventing information from reaching Parliament, and the 10 MPs
implicated in the cash for query scam; suspending the MPs involved in the MPLADs scandal; reprimanding and admonishing Russi Karanjia for his denigrating remarks against a member; SC Mukherjee, a deputy secretary who misled a parliamentary panel and Subhash Kashyap, former secretary general of the House for his remarks against the Chair.