The recent actions taken by the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee in response to a complaint against a Member of Parliament (MP) have sparked significant public discourse. A senior MP from the ruling party, filed a complaint with the Speaker, alleging that the MP had received money from a businessman in exchange for raising questions in Parliament to promote the businessman’s business interests. The Speaker subsequently referred the complaint to the Ethics Committee for investigation and a report.
With the help of suitable illustration, highlight the importance of parliamentary committees for the effective functioning of the legislature. (10 marks, 150 words).
Procedure followed in such cases
- It is important to clarify that if an MP accepts money in exchange for raising questions in Parliament, it constitutes a breach of privilege and contempt of the House.
- Such complaints are typically forwarded to the Committee of Privileges for a thorough investigation.
- This committee conducts an inquiry and provides its findings in a report, along with recommendations for action against the implicated MP.
- In cases where it is proven that an MP accepted illegal payments for performing parliamentary duties, expulsion from the House is a possible outcome.
- Instances of MPs being expelled for such reasons have occurred in the Lok Sabha.
- For example, in 1951 an MP of the Provisional Parliament, was found guilty of promoting the interests of a business association in exchange for financial benefits by raising questions and proposing amendments that favored the business association. A special House committee determined that his conduct was detrimental to the dignity of the House and inconsistent with the standards expected of its members.
Role of the Ethics committee vis-a-vis the committee of privileges
- In the present case, despite the allegation being about accepting illegal gratification for parliamentary work, it has been referred to the Ethics Committee.
- The Ethics Committee of the Lok Sabha, established in 2000, is responsible for reviewing complaints related to the unethical behavior of MPs and recommending appropriate actions. It is also tasked with formulating a code of conduct for MPs.
- An interesting aspect of the Ethics Committee is that the term “unethical conduct” has not been precisely defined, leaving it to the committee’s discretion to assess specific actions and decide whether they are unethical.
- Some past cases have indicated the type of conduct that might be considered unethical. For example, an MP once took a female companion on a parliamentary tour, falsely claiming her as his wife, which the committee deemed unethical, resulting in his suspension from the House.
- But more severe cases of misconduct or criminal offenses are typically handled by the Committee of Privileges or special committees, not the Ethics Committee.
- If the present case pertains to accepting illegal gratification, it becomes a matter of privilege breach and should not fall under the jurisdiction of the Ethics Committee.
Parliamentary investigations and judicial investigations
- Since accepting a bribe is a criminal offense, it is usually investigated by government law enforcement agencies.
- Parliamentary committees do not engage in criminal investigations.
- They decide whether an MP’s conduct constitutes a breach of privilege or contempt of the House based on evidence and may impose relevant sanctions.
- The punishment by the House relates to the MP’s functioning within the House, while criminal offenses are dealt with through legal channels.
- Parliamentary investigations differ from judicial investigations.
- Parliament’s committees conduct inquiries under the House’s rules and have investigative powers to protect the institution’s honor and dignity.
- They employ various methods, including examining written documents, interviewing witnesses, and analyzing evidence.
- However, parliamentary inquiries do not adhere to the same rules of evidence as judicial investigations.
Online submission of questions
- The issue of Members of Parliament (MPs) sharing their passwords and login credentials with others is now in the spotlight. In practice, MPs often lack the time to personally draft questions.
- As a result, they are known to share their login information with personal assistants, which is considered a practical necessity.
- Furthermore, it appears that the Lok Sabha has not established any regulations to govern the online submission of questions.
- Additionally, MPs are free to enlist the assistance of individuals in carrying out their parliamentary responsibilities. They are not obliged to disclose the sources from which they obtain information for their parliamentary work.
Article 105 of the Constitution grants MPs the freedom to express “anything” within the House, and this right should extend to accessing information from various sources to formulate questions or draft bills and resolutions for presentation in Parliament. Consequently, an inquiry into the sources of information used by an MP may not have a legal basis. Nevertheless, Parliament retains the authority to take disciplinary action against its members.