What are Parliamentary privileges?
- Parliamentary privileges are certain rights and immunities enjoyed by members of Parliament, individually and collectively, so that they can “effectively discharge their functions”. When any of these rights and immunities is disregarded, the offence is called a breach of privilege and is punishable under law of Parliament.
- It should be noted that the parliamentary privileges do not extend to the President who is also an integral part of the Parliament.
- The powers, privileges and immunities of either House of the Indian Parliament and of its Members and committees are laid down in Article 105 of the Constitution.
- Article 194 deals with the powers, privileges and immunities of the State Legislatures, their Members and their committees.
- Apart from the privileges as specified in the Constitution, the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, provides for freedom from arrest and detention of members under civil process during the continuance of the meeting of the House or of a committee thereof and forty days before its commencement and forty days after its conclusion.
- In addition to the above mentioned privileges and immunities each House also enjoys certain Privileges based on Rules of Procedure and precedents such as:
- The Chairman has a right to receive immediate information of the arrest, detention, conviction, imprisonment and release of a member on a criminal charge or for a criminal offence.
- Members or officers of the House cannot be compelled to give evidence or to produce documents in courts of law, relating to the proceedings of the House without the permission of the House.
- The Parliamentary houses also have consequential powers necessary for the protection of its privileges and immunities. These powers are:
- to commit persons, whether they are members or not, for breach of privilege or contempt of the House;
- to compel the attendance of witnesses and to send for persons, papers and records;
- to regulate its procedure and the conduct of its business;
- to prohibit the publication of its debates and proceedings and
- to exclude strangers.
What constitutes a breach of this privilege?
- While the Constitution has accorded special privileges and powers to parliamentarians and legislators to maintain the dignity and authority of the Houses, these powers and privileges are not codified.
- Thus, there are no clear, notified rules to decide what constitutes a breach of privilege, and the punishment it attracts.
- Any act that obstructs or impedes either House of the state legislature in performing its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any Member or officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results is treated as breach of privilege.
- It is a breach of privilege and contempt of the House to make speeches or to print or publish false information reflecting on the character or proceedings of the House, or its Committees, or on any member of the House for or relating to his character or conduct as a legislator.
Procedure to be followed
- The Legislative Assembly Speaker or Legislative Council Chairman constitutes a Privileges Committee consisting of 15 members in the Assembly and 10 members in the Council.
- The members to the committee are nominated based on the party strength in the Houses.
- The Speaker or Chairman first decides on the motions. If the privilege and contempt are found prima facie, then the Speaker or Chairman will forward it to the Privileges Committee by following the due procedure.
- The Committee, which has quasi-judicial powers, will seek an explanation from all the concerned, will conduct an inquiry and will make a recommendation based on the findings to the state legislature for its consideration.
- If the Committee finds the offender guilty of breach of privilege and contempt, it can recommend the punishment. The punishment can include communicating the displeasure of the state legislature to the offender, summoning the offender before the House and giving a warning, and even sending the offender to jail.
- In the case of the media, press facilities of the state legislature may be withdrawn, and a public apology may be sought.
Why in News?
- Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh said that he would move a privilege motion against Union Culture Minister G Kishan Reddy over the appointment of former MP Tarun Vijay as the chairperson of the National Monuments Authority, a post for which, Mr. Ramesh said, Mr. Vijay was not qualified.
- The National Monuments Authority operates under the aegis of the Union Ministry of Culture.