Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who chairs the Parliamentary Standing Committee on science and technology, has moved a privilege motion against news channel Times Now for “falsified and mischievous” reporting of the proceedings of the panel’s meeting.
Meaning of Parliamentary Privileges
Parliamentary privileges are special rights, immunities and exemptions enjoyed by the two Houses of Parliament, their committees and their members. They are necessary in order to secure the independence and effectiveness of their actions. Without these privileges, the Houses can neither maintain their authority, dignity and honour nor can protect their members from any obstruction in the discharge of their parliamentary responsibilities. The Constitution has also extended the parliamentary privileges to those persons who are entitled to speak and take part in the proceedings of a House of Parliament or any of its committees. These include the attorney general of India and Union ministers. It must be clarified here that the parliamentary privileges do not extend to the president who is also an integral part of the Parliament.
Classification Parliamentary Privileges
Parliamentary privileges can be classified into two broad categories:
1. Those that are enjoyed by each House of Parliament collectively,
2. Those that are enjoyed by the members individually.
The privileges belonging to each House of Parliament collectively are:
- It has the right to publish its reports, debates and proceedings and also the right to prohibit others from publishing the same. The 44th Amendment Act of 1978 restored the freedom of the press to publish true reports of parliamentary proceedings without prior permission of the House. But this is not applicable in the case of a secret sitting of the House.
- It can exclude strangers from its proceedings and hold secret sittings to discuss some important matters.
- It can make rules to regulate its own procedure and the conduct of its business and to adjudicate upon such matters.
- It can punish members as well as outsiders for breach of its privileges or its contempt by reprimand, admonition or imprisonment (also suspension or expulsion, in case of members).
- It has the right to receive immediate information of the arrest, detention, conviction, imprisonment and release of a member.
- It can institute inquiries and order the attendance of witnesses and send for relevant papers and records.
- The courts are prohibited to inquire into the proceedings of a House or its committees.
- No person (either a member or outsider) can be arrested, and no legal process (civil or criminal) can be served within the precincts of the House without the permission of the presiding officer.
The privileges belonging to the members individually are:
- They cannot be arrested during the session of Parliament and 40 days before the beginning and 40 days after the end of a session. This privilege is available only in civil cases and not in criminal cases or preventive detention cases.
- They have freedom of speech in Parliament. No member is liable to any proceedings in any court for anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or its committees. This freedom is subject to the provisions of the Constitution and to the rules and standing orders regulating the procedure of Parliament.
- They are exempted from jury service. They can refuse to give evidence and appear as a witness in a case pending in a court when Parliament is in session.
Breach of Privilege and Contempt of the House
“When any individual or authority disregards or attacks any of the privileges, rights and immunities, either of the member individually or of the House in its collective capacity, the offence is termed as breach of privilege and is punishable by the House.”
Any act or omission which obstructs a House of Parliament, its member or its officer in the performance of their functions or which has a tendency, directly or indirectly to produce results against the dignity, authority and honour of the House is treated as a contempt of the House
Though the two phrases, ‘breach of privilege’ and ‘contempt of the House’ are used interchangeably, they have different implications. ‘Normally, a breach of privilege may amount to contempt of the House. Likewise, contempt of the House may include a breach of privilege also. Contempt of the House, however, has wider implications. There may be a contempt of the House without specifically committing a breach of privilege’. Similarly, ‘actions which are not breaches of any specific privilege but are offences against the dignity and authority of the House amount to contempt of the House’. For example, disobedience to a legitimate order of the House is not a breach of privilege, but can be punished as contempt of the House.
Sources of Privileges
Originally, the Constitution (Article 105) expressedly mentioned two privileges, that is, freedom of speech in Parliament and right of publication of its proceedings. With regard to other privileges, it provided that they were to be the same as those of the British House of Commons, its committees and its members on the date of its commencement (ie, 26 January, 1950), until defined by Parliament. The 44th Amendment Act of 1978 provided that the other privileges of each House of Parliament, its committees and its members are to be those which they had on the date of its commencement (ie, 20 June, 1979), until defined by Parliament. This means that the position with regard to other privileges remains same. In other words, the amendment has made only verbal changes by dropping a direct reference to the British House of Commons, without making any change in the implication of the provision.
It should be noted here that the Parliament, till now, has not made any special law to exhaustively codify all the privileges. They are based on five sources, namely,
- Constitutional provisions,
- Various laws made by Parliament,
- Rules of both the Houses,
- Parliamentary conventions, and
- Judicial interpretations.
- The provisions related to the parliamentary privileges of the parliament (members and committees) can be amended using the simple majority of the parliament.
- President is not entitled to the parliamentary privileges.
- Without taking the oath before the Indian President, the privileges and immunities are not granted to the member of the parliament.
- The Lok Sabha speaker is the guardian of the Lok Sabha members’ privileges and the committees of this house of the parliament.
- The privilege of the deputy speaker of Lok Sabha:
- He automatically is granted the seat of the chairman of the parliamentary committee he is a member of.
- There is a motion named ‘Privilege Motion‘ used to censure a minister for the breach of the parliamentary privilege.
- Adjournment motion and token cut motion can’t be used to raise the question of privilege.
- Lok Sabha has the exclusive privilege to vote on the demand for grants.
- The parliament has the judicial power to punish the members of the houses or the outsider for any breach of privilege.
- There is a committee called ‘Committee of Privileges’ which is of semi-judicial nature. It is responsible for examining the privileges’ breach. There are 15 members in the committee of privileges for Lok Sabha while there are 10 members for the same committee in Rajya Sabha.
- The persons who are allowed to speak in the proceedings of either house of the parliament are also entitled to the privileges of the Parliament. Example – Attorney General of India and Union Ministers.
Source: The Hindu