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Expulsion from Parliament and aftermath

THE SEVEN sins which Mahatma Gandhi advised us to avoid were?Politics without principles, commerce without morals, education without character, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, science without humanity and worship without sacrifice. It is, however, distressing to notice that so soon after his departure, the people of India, specially the elected representatives, departed from the noble ideas and the human values for which the Father of Nation lived and died.

india Updated: Feb 20, 2006 01:05 IST
BC Shukla
BC Shukla

THE SEVEN sins which Mahatma Gandhi advised us to avoid were—Politics without principles, commerce without morals, education without character, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, science without humanity and worship without sacrifice. It is, however, distressing to notice that so soon after his departure, the people of India, specially the elected representatives, departed from the noble ideas and the human values for which the Father of Nation lived and died.

The cash-for-question scam, which recently rocked Parliament and shocked the nation, resulted in unceremonious exit of as many as 11 ‘Honourables’ on the ground that their conduct was unethical and unbecoming of Members of Parliament. While there was near-unanimity amongst the members that the dignity of the House has suffered a serious setback, there was a sharp division about the nature, extent and the mode of punishment against those who were involved in the murky deal.

Some of the members described the expulsion as the collective will of Parliament and argued that its standing would have dipped irretrievably if the decision was delayed or if lesser penalty was imposed. But other members described the punishment as disproportionate to the delinquency. Ram Jethmalani and Arun Jaitley, both former Law Ministers, described the verdict unsupportable in Law as well as in Justice.

It would, therefore, be quite relevant to scan through some of the cases in which the membership of several legislators was terminated by various Houses since Independence. The first case was that of HG Mudgal who was expelled from the provisional Parliament on 25.9.51, on the grounds of accepting money from Mumbai businessmen. In June, 1951, a committee was constituted to investigate the charges, and the Attorney General was requested to assist the committee.

When, ultimately a motion for expulsion of Mudgal was brought before the House, the concerned member was allowed to participate in the discussion. Soon after his speech, Mudgal went to the podium and submitted his resignation to the Chair. However, this resignation was not accepted and the member was expelled. A special feature of this case was that Jawahar Lal Nehru, Dr Ambedkar and most of the stalwarts of the Constituent Assembly were present when Mudgal was expelled. Mudgal never challenged his expulsion.

Indira Gandhi was also expelled from Lok Sabha on December 19, 1978 for the alleged breach of privilege and contempt of the previous Lok Sabha. She never challenged her expulsion. But when she again became the Prime Minister, the Lok Sabha adopted a fresh resolution on May 7, 1981, rescinding its earlier decision with a declaration that the proceedings dated December 19, 1978 shall not constitute a precedent in the law of Parliamentary privileges.

Parliamentary proceedings further reveal that Subramaniyam Swamy was expelled from Rajya Sabha on November 15, 1976, Suresh Seth was expelled from the Madhya Pradesh Assembly in September, 1978 and another MLA was expelled from the Maharashtra Assembly in August, 1964.

None of these members challenged their expulsions. However, there are three reported cases of expulsions, which were challenged before the High Courts. These cases are:

(i)AIR 1967 MP 95
(ii)ILR 1977 (2) P and H 269 (FB)
(iii)AIR 1988 Madras 275.

In the first case of 1967, YR Meghawale, a member of MP Assembly was reported to have assaulted the Deputy Speaker who was presiding. The other member, Kridutt was alleged to have thrown chappals towards the presiding officer. Consequently, both the members were expelled on March 17, 1966, while dismissing the writ petition filed by the expelled members, the High Court observed:

“It cannot be contended with any degree of force that since there is no provision in the Constitution providing for a member’s seat becoming vacant as a result of his expulsion, the right or privilege of expelling a member cannot be exercised. So far the exercise of the power of expulsion by the legislature is concerned, Article 194 (3) operates independently of articles 190 and 191.”

However, in Hardwari Lal’s case of 1977, a full bench of the High Court took a different view. Hardwari Lal, who had been a minister in Haryana Government and had also served as a vice-chancellor, had published a booklet named ‘Chief Minister Runs Amok’. On January 8, 1975, a resolution for the expulsion of Hardwari Lal was moved at the instance of Sri Bansi Lal, the then Chief Minister, and it was adopted by the House. A full bench of five judges held, by a majority, that the State Legislature was not competent to terminate the membership of Hardwari Lal. The court observed:

“When the law regarding disqualification and vacation of seats has specially provided in Articles 190 and 191, there is no warrant for pressing that Article 194 (3) was intended to override them or to operate independently”.

As regards the Madras case of 1988, as many as 10 members of the Assembly were reported to have burnt copies of Part XVII of the Constitution which provides for Hindi to be the official language of India. By a resolution adopted on December 22, 1984, all these members were unseated. The Madras High Court considered the decisions of Madhya Pradesh as well as Punjab and Haryana High Court and held that the Legislature was fully competent to terminate the membership of the erring legislators. Their lordships further observed that the expulsion resolution cannot be negative on the ground that the aggrieved members were not heard, before passing the impugned resolution.

It may be recalled that Article 194 (3) of the Constitution clearly provides that the powers and privileges of every legislature in India shall be at par with the British House of Commons and it is beyond any shadow of doubt that the House of Commons had unbridled power to terminate the membership of a Commoner, if in the opinion of the House such Commoner has conducted in a derogatory and undignified manner.

It was in this context that the Madras and MP High Courts upheld the expulsion of concerned members. Article 190, however, enumerates the circumstances in which the seat of a sitting member becomes vacant. These circumstances include resignation, continued absence for 60 days and incurring disqualification under Article 191. The twin articles do not contemplate vacancy arising out of expulsion of a member. It was this dichotomy which prompted the Punjab and Haryana High Court to declare the resolution dated January 8, 1975 as unconstitutional.

In some quarters a view has been expressed that the Parliament’s decision to expel its members is not open to judicial review and that the Speaker’s refusal to receive notices from the courts was just and proper. This view does not appear to be legally sound. An aggravated notion of parliamentary supremacy or individualistic ego should not play any part in the judicial process, which is the heart and core of a developing democracy. In fact, the Indian legislatures are not supreme as is the case with British Constitution; it is the Constitution, which is supreme, and not the institutions created thereby. The Supreme Court and the Parliament are both twins, and none of them can claim supremacy over the other.

When a petition is filed before the courts, and the same is entertained, the courts are bound to issue notices to the persons arrayed as opposite parties in order to enable them to raise various pleas including the plea regarding want of jurisdiction. By responding to such notices, the officers of the legislature would be in a better position to obtain a favourable verdict from the courts. It may also be mentioned that according to Article 361 of the Constitution the President and the Governors are not answerable to any court. But no such immunity has been granted to the legislatures or to their presiding officers. Admittedly, the courts are competent to examine the constitutional validity of legislations passed by the Parliament.

There is therefore, no warrant for the proposition that they cannot entertain a petition challenging a resolution adopted by the Parliament. In Bihar, the majority decision of the Supreme Court, holding the dissolution of the Assembly (resulting in the ouster of all the members) was widely acclaimed and it is a paradox to plead that the controversy over the expulsion of some of the members cannot be adjudicated by the courts. Parliamentary institutions are essentially political institutions and the courts have necessary jurisdiction to decide whether a particular decision was or was not politically motivated.

The fine line of distinction between the internal autonomy of the legislative bodies and insulation of their operation from judicial interference on the one hand, and the Constitutional obligation of the courts to examine the legality of such actions and correct clear injustices on the other is jurisprudentially real. The members of Parliament enjoy a status; they have a right to approach the courts for redressal of their grievances. One cannot have his own cake and eat it too. The Supreme Court is the final interpreter of the Constitution, and it has a right, may a duty, to set at rest the controversy created by the P. and H. High Court.

If the Parliament is really interested in avoiding avoidable confrontation with the judiciary, it should immediately remove the inconsistency between Articles 105 (3) and Articles 101 and 102, and should proceed to define its privileges as contemplated by Article 105 (3). Not only this, the Parliament should look beyond the expulsions and should-

(a)Provide that the members so expelled shall not be entitled to contest any future elections,
(b)Provide that such members shall not be entitled to any pension,
(c)Amend the law to undo the decision in Narsingha Rao’s case,
(d)Take all other steps to restore people’s confidence in the sacred precincts of democracy, and
(e)Decide whether or not the string operations should be regulated by law as suggested by the ethics committee of Rajya Sabha.
(The writer is former secretary of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly)

First Published: Feb 20, 2006 01:05 IST