Parliamentary panel reports admissible in courts, says CJI Misra-led bench
A constitution bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra said on Wednesday that Parliamentary Standing Committee reports can be examined by courts for evaluating evidence, brushing aside the Centre’s contention that it would amount to encroaching on the domain of the legislature.
The admissibility of a parliamentary report would not, however, mean that the facts stated in it stand proven. The facts would need to be supported by evidence, the court said.
“There can be no dispute that a parliamentary standing committee report, being in the public domain, is a public document. Therefore, it is admissible under Section 74 of the Evidence Act and judicial notice can be taken of such a document as envisaged under Section 57(4) of the Evidence Act. There can be no scintilla of doubt that the said document can be taken on record. As stated earlier, it can be taken aid of to understand and appreciate a statutory provision if it is unclear, ambiguous or incongruous,” SC said.
The issue over the admissibility of a parliamentary standing committee report arose in a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by social activists challenging the Drugs Controller General of India and the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR) approval of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine in the country for cervical cancer patients.
The approval was given despite a parliamentary standing committee report opposing the use of the vaccine, manufactured by two GlaxoSmithKline Asia Private Limited and MSD Pharmaceuticals Private Limited.
The petitioners moved the court, seeking a ban on the use of the vaccine. According to them, several women had died in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh after they were administered the vaccine during a pilot immunization camp.
The petitioners had relied upon the parliamentary standing committee report to oppose the vaccine. The Centre and pharma companies opposed the petitioners’ reliance on the report, saying it would breach parliamentary privileges. The dispute was referred to a constitution bench which, without going into the merits of the vaccine’s quality ,decided on the larger issue of parliamentary privileges.
“Parliamentary standing committee report can be taken aid of for the purpose of interpretation of a statutory provision wherever it is so necessary and also it can be taken note of as existence of a historical fact,” the court held.
However, it cannot be impinged or challenged in court. A published parliamentary standing committee report is in the public domain. Quoting from it would not constitute breach of parliamentary privilege, but no member of Parliament or person can be made liable for what is stated in the course of proceedings before the committee or for a vote tendered and given, the court held.