House panel exploring possibility of codifying MPs'privileges | india | Hindustan Times
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House panel exploring possibility of codifying MPs'privileges

Privileges Committee of Lok Sabha has written to over 400 people, both within and outside the country, seeking their views on the subject, reports Saroj Nagi.

india Updated: May 09, 2007 00:10 IST
Saroj Nagi

Recent incidents like the cash-for-query scam, the MP funds scandal or Babubhai Katara’s attempt to misuse his wife’s passport allegedly for human trafficking have lent significance to the ongoing efforts of the Parliamentary Committee of Privileges to explore whether an MP’s privileges should be codified to remove any confusion.

The prevailing impression is that rules apply only to ordinary people and parliamentarians--or legislators—-are a law unto themselves.

"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,’’ said a senior leader.

The Privileges Committee of Lok Sabha is exploring the possibility of codifying the privileges of members. It has written to over 400 people, both within and outside the country, seeking their views on the subject.

A questionnaire--containing 13 queries—was sent, among others, to MPs, state legislatures, media personnel, academicia and foreign Parliaments, including the Australian parliament the only one to have codified its members privileges through the 1987 Act that provides, among other things, immunity from arrest in a civil cause and from compulsory attendance before a court or tribunal. In UK, where the issue was debated intensely, a report is ready but a final decision on it is still awaited.

So far, only 40-odd responses have come which are being tabulated. The Privileges Committee, headed by Kishore Chandra Deo, is likely to shortly send a reminder to the others to submit their views.

In India, privileges are available to MPs by virtue of constitutional and statutory provisions, rules of procedure and conduct of business of the House and the precedents of British House of Commons and conventions. But a composite These include, for instance, freedom of speech in Parliament, non-liability in any court proceeding for their speeches or vote in the House and no arrest in the Parliamentary precincts without the Speaker’s permission.

The issue of codifying these privileges by law has been deliberated several times. The presiding officers’ conference considered the matter in 1992 but decided against it, preferring to go for a case-by-case approach.

During the Tenth Lok Sabha, the Privileges Committee of Parliament decided to take another look at it. But in its report in 1994, it recommended that privileges should not be codified. The issue is now being revisited.

Though the move was initiated before the Katara incident, there are doubts whether the panel would misuse its authority to expand the ambit of its privileges.

"There is need to remove this apprehension,’’ said a member of the panel, pointing out that when it came to a crunch, Parliaemnt did not hesitate to take action against its errant members.

Recent examples include expulsion of 11 MPs in the cash-for-query scam and punishment to five MPs found in the MP funds scandal.

Earlier examples include the expulsions of HG Mudgal (in a corruption case) and Indira Gandhi (for preventing information from reaching Parliament); admonishment, among others, of Russi Karanjia (for his denigrating remarks against a member), S C Mukherjee (an official who misled a parliamentary panel) and Subhash Kashyap (former secretary general of the Lok Sabha for his remarks against the presiding officer).

Questionnaire circulated:
*Should privileges of MPs and parliamentary committees be codified
*Do privileges enable MPs and Parliament to perform their duties without obstruction
*Is there scope for misuse of privileges of the House and its members
*Were these privileges deliberately not codified to keep them vague
*Will codification lead to frivolous charges against MPs
*Should privileges be broadened
*Does judicial activism result in near-confrontation situations between courts and legislatures
*Since definition of contempt of the House is vague, how justified is the criticism of Parliament on that count.
*Shouldn’t Parliament have the power to punish contempt like the Supreme Court does
*Can judiciary review the House’s penal powers to expel its members for grave misconduct.


Privileges of MPs
Under the Constitution
*freedom of speech in Parliament
*Not liable to court proceedings for speech/vote in Parliament/committee

Under the Statute
*135A Civil Procedure Code allows Mps freedom from arrest in civil cases during and 40 days before and after the session

Under precedents of House of Commons
*right of the House to get immediate information of an MP’s detention, arrest, conviction or release
*prohibition of arrest within Parliaments’ precincts without the Speaker’s permission
*members and officers of the House cannot give evidence in courts about proceedings without permission
*MPs of one House cannot attend as a witness before the other House.
*until tabled, evidence of a parliamentary panel and its report cannot be disclosed