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Indian Parliament Privileges: Key Foundations



  Dec 11, 2023

Parliamentary Privileges



Main Privileges of Parliament

The Parliament of India, a pivotal entity in the nation's democratic framework, is endowed with specific privileges that are crucial for its functioning. Each House of Parliament, its Committees, and members have special rights and protections essential for their effective functioning. These privileges ensure Parliament's freedom, authority, and dignity.These privileges are enshrined in the Constitution, other statutes, and parliamentary procedures. Here's a detailed look at the key privileges:

Freedom of Speech in Parliament (Article 105(1)): This ensures that members can speak freely in the House, facilitating open and uninhibited discussions.

Immunity in Legal Proceedings (Article 105(2)): Members are immune from legal actions for their speeches or votes in Parliament or its Committees, safeguarding them from external influences. Publication Immunity (Article 105(2)): Immunity extends to persons involved in publishing reports, papers, or proceedings authorized by the House, ensuring transparency and accessibility of parliamentary activities.

Prohibition on Judicial Inquiry (Article 122(1)): Courts are barred from inquiring into parliamentary proceedings' validity, reinforcing the separation of powers between the legislature and judiciary.

Freedom from Arrest in Civil Cases: Members enjoy immunity from arrest in civil cases during, before, and after the House's sessions, ensuring uninterrupted legislative work.

Right to Intimation on Member's Status: The House must be immediately informed of any member's arrest, detention, conviction, or release, maintaining transparency and respect for the House's integrity.

Immunity from Arrest within Precincts: Members and others are immune from arrest and legal processes within the House's precincts without specific permission, maintaining the sanctity of the parliamentary space.

Protection of Secret Sitting Proceedings (Article 361A): This ensures confidentiality of proceedings during secret sittings, crucial for sensitive discussions.

Permission Required for Evidence : Members or officers cannot be compelled to present evidence or documents in court related to House proceedings without the House's permission, preserving parliamentary sovereignty.

Consent Required for Witness Appearance : Similar consent is required for them to appear as witnesses in other legislative bodies, reinforcing the respect for parliamentary procedures.

Confidentiality of Committee Proceedings : The disclosure or publication of evidence, reports, or proceedings of Parliamentary Committees is restricted until officially presented in the House, ensuring procedural integrity.

These privileges are foundational in maintaining the dignity, efficiency, and independence of the Indian Parliament, enabling it to function as a robust democratic institution.

Consequential Powers of Each House of Parliament

In addition to their primary privileges and immunities, both Houses of the Indian Parliament possess consequential powers essential for safeguarding these privileges. These powers are instrumental in maintaining the sanctity and effective functioning of parliamentary proceedings, excluding specific court rulings. They include:

Power to Penalize for Breach of Privilege or Contempt: This authority allows the Houses to sanction individuals, whether members or not, for actions considered a breach of privilege or contempt of the House. This power is critical to uphold the respect and authority of the Parliament.

Compulsion of Witness Attendance and Document Acquisition: The Houses can mandate the appearance of witnesses and demand papers and records. This ensures access to necessary information and testimonies for effective legislative scrutiny and decision-making.

Regulation of Procedure and Conduct: Each House has the autonomy to regulate its procedures and the conduct of its business. This independence is crucial for effective management of their internal operations.

Control Over Publication of Debates and Proceedings: The Houses have the right to restrict the publication of their debates and proceedings, which can be essential for maintaining confidentiality on sensitive matters.

Authority to Exclude Non-Members from the House: The Houses can exclude non-members from their proceedings to ensure a secure and focused legislative environment.

These powers reinforce the autonomy and integrity of the Indian Parliament, enabling it to function as a robust and independent legislative body.

Committee of Privileges

Committee of Privileges in the Indian Parliament

Introduction

The Committee of Privileges plays a pivotal role in upholding the integrity and efficacy of the Indian Parliament. This committee ensures that the rights, privileges, and immunities of each House of Parliament, its Committees, and individual members are preserved. These privileges are essential for the unimpeded functioning of the Parliament, safeguarding its freedom, authority, and dignity. They are conferred upon individual members as far as necessary for the collective performance of the House's functions, without exempting them from societal obligations that apply to all citizens.

Constitution of the Committee

Composition: The Committee comprises 15 members, nominated by the Speaker of the House.

Primary Function: Its core responsibility is to scrutinize questions involving breaches of privilege of the House or its members. Upon referral from the House or the Speaker, the committee examines each case to determine if a breach of privilege has occurred and proposes appropriate recommendations.

Reporting and Recommendations: The Committee's report is presented to the House by the Chairman or, in his absence, by a Committee member. If the question of privilege is referred by the Speaker , the report is submitted to the Speaker who may issue final orders or direct its submission to the House.

Additional Role Post-1986: Following the enactment of the Members of Lok Sabha (Disqualification on Ground of Defection) Rules, 1985, an additional responsibility was assigned to the Committee. The Speaker may direct the Committee to conduct preliminary inquiries into disqualification petitions based on defection and submit a report. The procedure followed in these cases aligns, as far as possible, with that applied to breach of privilege questions.

The Committee of Privileges thus serves as an essential mechanism, ensuring that the Parliament operates within a framework of respect, autonomy, and integrity, crucial for a robust democratic system.

Overview

The handling of questions of privilege in each house of the Indian Parliament is governed by their respective Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business.

Questions of Privilege

Procedure for Raising Questions of Privilege

Initial Permission:

Members must obtain consent from the Chairman to raise a question of privilege.

Conditions for admissibility include:

(i) Only one question per sitting.

(ii) The question must pertain to a specific, recent matter.

(iii) The matter necessitates the House's intervention.

Timeliness and Relevance:

Privilege questions should be raised at the earliest opportunity and require the House's attention.

House Approval:

After the Chairman's consent, at least twenty-five members must support the motion for the question to be considered. Consideration and Decision

House or Committee Deliberation:

The House may either resolve the matter itself or refer it to the Committee of Privileges.

Chairman's Authority:

The Chairman can suo motu refer any privilege or contempt question to the Committee for examination.

Alternatively, the Chairman may conduct their own inquiry and inform the House of the findings, concluding the matter.

Post-Report Procedure

After the Committee's report is presented, the Chairman or a Committee member may propose that the House consider the report.

This process ensures that questions of privilege are addressed with due diligence and appropriate parliamentary oversight.

Cross-House Breach of Privilege: Member-Only Procedure

Overview

A 1954-established procedure for handling breaches of privilege involving a member from one Indian parliamentary House alleged to have committed the breach in the other House.

Steps

Initial Assessment: Presiding Officer of the reporting House reviews the allegation.

Referral: If significant, the matter is referred to the other House's Presiding Officer.

Investigation and Reporting: The member's House investigates and reports back.

This ensures proper handling of cross-House breaches by members.


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