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Role of Parliamentary Inquiry Committees

  • Published
    7th Dec, 2023
Context

Trinamool Congress Member of Parliament (MP) MahuaMoitra is currently facing an inquiry by the ethics committee of the LokSabha.

Background

Background: Investigation into TMC MP MahuaMoitra's Conduct

  • The committee is reported to have recommended her expulsion from the LokSabha, citing reasons such as "unethical conduct," "breach of privileges," and "contempt of the House."
  • The allegations stem from accusations that Moitra targeted a business house at the behest of a businessman in exchange for monetary benefits and shared her login credentials with the said businessman.

Ethics Committee's Mandate

  • Established in 2000, the ethics committee of the LokSabha is tasked with overseeing the moral and ethical conduct of its members.
  • The committee examines cases of 'unethical conduct,' which can be brought to its attention through complaints filed by members of the House, outsiders through a member, or those referred by the Speaker.
  • The committee conducts a preliminary inquiry to determine if a complaint is valid and presents its findings to the Speaker for consideration.
  • Notably, the term 'unethical' is not explicitly defined, leaving it to the committee's discretion.

Privileges Committees

  • Another vital component of parliamentary oversight is the privileges committee or special inquiry committee, which addresses more severe accusations against a member.
  • In cases where a member is found guilty of actions such as promoting personal business interests through parliamentary activities, these committees recommend punitive measures.
  • For instance, a special committee in 1951 found a member guilty of promoting business interests by posing questions in exchange for financial benefits.
  • Similarly, the 'cash for query' scam in 2005 led to the recommendation of expulsion for 10 MPs by a special committee.

Constitutionality of Expulsion

  • While the Constitution under Article 101 outlines grounds for the vacation of a seat by an MP, including resignation, disqualification, and prolonged absence, expulsion is not explicitly mentioned.
  • The Supreme Court has presented conflicting judgments on the matter. In Raja Ram Pal versus Hon'ble Speaker (2007), the Court upheld Parliament's power to expel members for breaching privilege, interpreting Article 101 accordingly.
  • However, in Amarinder Singh versus Special committee, Punjab VidhanSabha (2010), the Court deemed expulsion by the State Assembly unconstitutional, citing concerns about undermining parliamentary democracy.

Balancing House Privileges and Democratic Representation

  • In cases like MahuaMoitra's, where serious allegations of 'cash for query' are at play, the question arises: is expulsion a proportionate punishment?
  • The delicate balance between upholding the dignity and privilege of the House and ensuring democratic representation must be maintained.
  • To address such concerns, the establishment of fast-track courts with a time-bound trial period could be considered.
  • This approach would ensure a fair and efficient resolution of cases within 60 days, safeguarding the interests of both the House and democratic representation.
  • If convicted, MPs could face disqualification under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, while maintaining continuous representation for the constituents in the absence of conviction.
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