Published by: Gautham Krishna
Parliamentary privileges denote the rights, exemptions, and immunities endowed to the members of both the houses of parliament, i.e., the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. Article 105 of the Indian constitution envisages the varied privileges of the MPs of the parliament. Initially, Article 105 extended and furnished two types of privileges to the MPs, Right of publication of parliament’s proceedings and Freedom of Speech in Parliament. As time passes, law evolved and paved the way for two brief categories under which such privileges and immunities are awarded to the MPs of both the houses. Parliamentary privileges are bestowed to the MPs collectively and individually, they are:
Privileges imparted by the MPs collectively:
1) Right to prohibit strangers
2) Right to exclude publication of proceedings
3) Right to punish MPs and outsiders for breach of its privileges
4) Right to manage internal affairs
Individual privileges of MPs:
1) Freedom of Speech
2) Freedom from arrest
3) Freedom from acting as witness
The existence of such immunities and exemptions to MPs is imperative to validate and acknowledge the supremacy of the parliament and the members. Absolute and strict privileges are essential to enable the members to perform their functions and make laws for the state without unnecessary intervention. Article 105 and Article 193 seeks to confer many such privileges to the parliament and its members for the independent working of the parliament without any external hindrances.
Parliamentary privileges had been derived and imparted from the British Constitution and there exists no statute or act for the governing and extension of privileges to MPs. These privileges are extracted and enumerated from the provisions of the Indian Constitution, various judicial interpretations, and rules of the parliament. In Raja Ram pal v. Hon’ble Speaker, the Supreme Court defined the scope and meaning of the term ‘Privilege’.
Freedom of Speech- MPs:
In a parliament, the freedom of speech vested in the MPs plays a crucial role in the formulation and the enactment of laws of the state. Freedom of speech capacitates the MPs to intimate and demonstrate their true emotions and feelings without the hindrance of the commission of offenses such as defamation. This freedom acts as an extension for the MPs providing the immunity of being arrested or produced for court proceedings. In the case of Tej Kiran Jain v. Sanjeeva Reddy, the apex court held that the MPs procure ultimate immunity for any statements or words rendered by them during the parliament session and that no court shall conduct official proceedings against the same. However, freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 105(1) is not supreme and is subject to other provisions of the constitution and to the procedures of the parliament.
Article 105(1) safeguards freedom of speech in the houses of parliament while Article 105(2) expressly provides immunity against any words mentioned or spoken during the sitting of the parliament. Article 105(2) states that MPs are exempted to be produced in court proceedings for any statement made by them during the ongoing session of parliament. Therefore, the publication of parliamentary proceedings to the public and any defamatory statement, if contained in such publication, would not be subject to a trail or a proceeding in a court of law.
Rules And Conduct:
The proceedings of the house are presided over by the speakers of the respective houses. These proceedings of the parliament are guided and monitored by the speakers who are also responsible for the implementation of rules, procedures, and conduct in the houses of parliament. The rules empower the speakers with the necessary discretion in specific matters or issues that is essential for the smooth operations of the house. Article 118(1) mandates each of the houses to formulate rules and procedures for regulating the conduct of its business. The rules came into force in July 1964 and since then, it has been subject to various amendments to accommodate the regulation of the houses of parliament.
These rules and conduct of the parliament enumerate the regulation and process of various disputes that may arise before the houses of parliament. They are guiding principles that contain procedures for all the functioning that the parliament encounters during its sessions. The process behind the summoning of members, sitting of council, an arrangement of business, and even a brief procedure pertaining to the passing of a bill are all contained here within the rules and conduct of the council of states.
MPs are contemplated to proffer ‘parliamentary language’ during parliamentary sessions and debates of the parliament. When they fail to do so, such words spoken by them are expunged from the records of the parliament. Expunction strictly means deletion or removal of words, expressions, and speech made by any MPs during the session of parliament which is of defamatory, undignified or indecent nature. Expunction is initiated by the Speaker, Chairperson or the Deputy Speaker of the house and it is at their absolute discretion to remove any word or speech form the parliament records. An MP or a minister may notify the speaker regarding the unparliamentarily remarks but it is the ultimate power of a speaker to address such notification. The speaker is mandated to verify verbatim proceedings before prescribing expunction. All such remarks that are expunged by the speaker are prohibited to be published by the media since such remarks are no longer part of the parliament proceedings.
Rule 352 of the Rules of Procedure prescribes a member of parliament does not has the capacity to remark the conduct of high authority persons. Persons of ‘high authority’ include persons whose conduct can be revised only due to a substantive motion as per the constitution or considering the judgment of the speaker. The rule also directs the members to not use undignified statements referring to the conduct of proceedings in a parliament or a state legislature. Rule 353 mandates that advance notice to the speaker is essential for allegations of indiscriminatory or defamatory nature. Rule 380 confers powers to the speakers of the houses to expunge words, expressions that are undignified, and unparliamentarily. Rule 381 directs the indication of the statements that are ordered to be expunged by the speaker.
Although article 105(2) empowers the MPs with the freedom of speech and provides immunity against any court proceedings, it is subject to other provisions of the constitution and the rules of procedures of the parliament. In other words, article 105(2) is not absolute and is limited, or rather its scope is restricted by expunction. The words the MPs choose to speak are subject to the rules of the parliament and the speaker can remove such words if found to be undignified in any manner.
Speaker’s Duties- Expunction:
Parliamentary rules and procedures that govern and regulate the conduct of its sessions delegates powers or duties to the speaker of the houses to expunge words, expressions, or statements. The power of expunction is disposed to the Speakers from Rules 380 and 381. Speaker has the authority to expunge or delete words from the parliamentary records those are viewed as prejudicial to the national interest, derogatory to any higher authority, likely to violate and affect the religious sentiments of the society. Statements or expressions that discredit the Army and words that would lower the dignity of the house or the speaker are also expunged from the session.
Textual words that are expunged are disqualified from appearing in the official records of the parliament. Speaker may order to replace or substitute a derogatory statement or a word with a clearer and suitable word in order to maintain and preserve the true intent of the statement rendered by a member.
Once a word is expunged, the media is restricted to publish the same adhering to the rules and procedures of the parliament. The Secretariat of the houses intimates the media personalities the words or statements that are expunged by the Speakers. Upon such intimation, the media is required to not publish expunged words and if they fail to honor the intimation, such acts amount to contempt of the house. However, words that are already published by the media and later expunged by the Speaker does not cause any breach or contempt.
In July 2019, a statement made by Azham Khan, MP of Samajwadi Party, was expunged by the Speaker as it was deduced as a ‘sexist remark’ directed at BJP’s MP Rama Devi. In 2015, Speaker of the Lok Sabha had expunged a comment composed by a member of Aam Aadmi Party, Bhagawat Mann, as the undignified comment was construed at Hon’ble PM Narendra Modi. The Assembly Speaker of Jammu and Kashmir, in February 2017, had authorized for an expunction of a statement constructed by the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir regarding Article 370. Even the Prime Minister’s remarks on B.K. Hariprasad was expunged from the parliament records by the Speaker.
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