Parliamentary Privileges in India

26 Sep 2023  Read 2173 Views

India is a land with a rich history of parliamentarian democracy, and in the fabric of parliament, one thread stands out prominently which is Parliamentary Privileges. These privileges, deeply rooted in the nation's democratic framework, provide a unique set of rights and immunities to the members of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. But are these privileges absolute in nature or it has some limitations? Let’s find out in this blog and do an analysis of Parliamentary Privileges.

What are Parliamentary Privileges?

Parliamentary privileges are a set of legal immunities, exemptions, and powers granted to the members of a legislative body, such as the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha in India. These privileges are crucial for the effective functioning of parliamentarians in their roles as lawmakers and representatives of the people.

Need for Parliamentary Privileges

The primary purpose of parliamentary privileges is to safeguard and facilitate the smooth operation of the legislative process. They serve several key functions:

1. Freedom of Speech: Parliamentary privileges grant lawmakers the freedom to express their opinions and ideas without fear of legal repercussions. This ensures open and honest debates within the legislature, allowing for the thorough examination of issues.

2. Protection of Integrity: These privileges protect parliamentarians from external interference, such as civil arrests, while they perform their duties. This shielding enables them to carry out their responsibilities without hindrance.

3. Immunity from Legal Action: Parliamentary privileges shield members from legal action for statements made during parliamentary proceedings. This protection encourages candid discussions and prevents legal harassment based on legislative speech.

4. Transparency: By allowing the publication of parliamentary proceedings, privileges ensure that the public remains informed about the debates, decisions, and actions of their elected representatives.

Historical Origins

  • The concept of Parliamentary Privileges in India traces its roots back to the early 19th century. In 1833, these privileges first appeared when the governor-general council included its fourth member. 

  • This marked the arrival of a legislative assembly that would eventually evolve into the legislative body we know today.

  • The Charter Act of 1833 is said to have laid the foundation stone of Parliamentary Privileges. This significant legislative act marked a historic moment by adding a fourth member to the Governor-General's Council. 

  • Following the enactment of the Indian Council Act of 1909, which introduced the concept of indirect elections to the legislature, there was a notable shift in the official perspective regarding the privileges of the legislature. This shift led to a more accommodating stance towards legislative privileges.

  • The Government of India Act of 1935 played a pivotal role in cementing the concept of Parliamentary Privileges in India. It unequivocally guaranteed the freedom of speech within the legislative context. This significant provision laid the groundwork for the legislative privileges we recognize today.

Constitutional Provisions and Precedents

While the Indian Constitution, particularly Articles 105 and 122, delineates the privileges of Parliament, additional provisions in Articles 194 and 212 extend these privileges to the states. 

Have you ever wondered what you can or can't say in India's parliamentary house? Find out in our YouTube Short on “Parliamentary Privileges”

Case Law: In the PV Narasimha Rao v/s State (1998), the Supreme Court granted Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) immunity from prosecution for accepting bribes in exchange for speeches or votes within Parliament and state legislatures. 

  • The ruling, based on Article 105(2) and Article 194(2) of the Indian Constitution, aimed to protect legislators' freedom of expression within the legislature. 

  • However, in September 2023, the Supreme Court decided to re-evaluate this immunity, citing its significance in shaping the morality of the polity and the need to reconsider legislators' immunity against bribery charges. 

  • This development reflects evolving interpretations of parliamentary privileges and their impact on Indian politics.

Free Speech vs. Responsibility

  • Freedom of speech within Parliament is upheld, subject to the provisions of the Constitution, as well as the rules and standing orders governing parliamentary procedures, as stipulated in Article 105(1) of the Indian Constitution.

  • Freedom of Speech, one of the bedrock privileges enshrined in Article 105(1) of the Indian Constitution, is the freedom of speech enjoyed by Parliamentarians.

  • Freedom from Arrest, Parliamentarians are shielded from civil arrest 40 days before and after the adjournment of the house, as well as during the sessions. This protection ensures that members can perform their legislative duties without fear of interference.

  • Article 105(2) grants immunity to those publishing reports or discussions of the house under the authority of a member. This transparency is crucial for keeping the public informed about parliamentary proceedings.

However, this freedom is not without limits, as it must adhere to the constitutional provisions and parliamentary rules. This is where the current scenario and MP Bidhuri’s communal slurs come into the picture.

Have you ever witnessed a fiery parliamentary debate? Share your thoughts on the fine line between free speech and responsible conduct in the comments section below.

Controversy around Bidhuri's remark in the Parliament 

In a historic session of the new Parliament, where significant legislation regarding women legislation was passed, BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri's hateful speech towards BSP MP Danish Ali, captured on video, raises crucial questions about parliamentary privileges and political accountability.

Read our recent blog on Women Reservation Bill: Key Highlights of Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam passed in the Special Monsoon Session 

Bidhuri's Offensive Remarks: A Stain on Parliament

  • During a late evening session in Lok Sabha, the nation witnessed the ugly spectacle involving BJP Member of Parliament, Ramesh Bidhuri, which resulted in a political storm. 

  • On the evening of September 21, 2023, Bidhuri directed crude and communal slurs at Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) member Kunwar Danish Ali during a parliamentary session.

  • Bidhuri's hate speech not only targeted his fellow MP but also insulted the very institution of Parliament and the trust placed in him by his constituents. 

  • Despite having his remarks expunged from parliamentary records and receiving a warning from Speaker Om Birla, the gravity of the situation demands a more decisive response. The incident has sparked outrage among opposition MPs, who are demanding Bidhuri's suspension from the Lok Sabha.

  • Congress leader Rahul Gandhi paid a visit to Danish Ali to express his solidarity and commented on the situation, stating, “Nafrat ke bazaar main Mohabbat ki dukaan” (In the market place of hate, a shop of love) reinforcing his party's allegations of communal politics by the BJP. 

  • MPs from the INDIA bloc also sent letters to the Speaker, urging the matter to be referred to the Privileges Committee.

Do you believe recent incidents of hate speech in Parliament should lead to stricter regulations? Tell us in the comment section below.

BJP's Response 

  • In light of Bidhuri's recent hate speech targeting BSP MP Danish Ali, the BJP has taken notice. 

  • Party President JP Nadda issued a show cause notice to Bidhuri, signaling that such behavior would not be tolerated within the party. 

  • Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla also expressed strong disapproval of Bidhuri's remarks and warned of "strict action" if such behavior recurred. 

  • Defence Minister Rajnath Singh immediately expressed regret in the House, emphasizing the seriousness of the situation.

Conclusion

Ramesh Bidhuri's history of using offensive language is far from new. His actions have repeatedly raised concerns about decorum in the Lok Sabha. From calling Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal a 'pimp' during a rally to making sexist remarks about Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati, Bidhuri's rhetoric has consistently crossed the line of acceptable parliamentary conduct. While it is crucial to maintain a democratic space for robust debates, hate speech and derogatory language have no place in the sacred halls of Parliament. The actions taken by the BJP leadership and the Lok Sabha Speaker indicate a willingness to address such misconduct.

It is imperative that our elected representatives uphold the dignity and decorum of the Parliament. Striking the right balance between free speech and responsibility remains a challenge, but it is one that must be met to ensure the integrity of our democracy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. What are the historical origins of Parliamentary Privileges in India?

  • Parliamentary Privileges in India find their roots in the 19th century, with their first appearance in 1833 when the council of the governor-general added a fourth member. 

  1. Which constitutional provisions protect Parliamentary Privileges?

  • The Indian Constitution, particularly Articles 105 and 122, outlines the privileges of Parliament, while Articles 194 and 212 extend these privileges to state legislatures.

  1. How does freedom of speech intersect with Parliamentary Privileges?

  • Freedom of speech within Parliament is protected under Article 105(1) of the Indian Constitution but is subject to constitutional provisions and parliamentary rules. This ensures that members can speak freely while adhering to parliamentary decorum.

  1. What is the current scenario regarding Parliamentary Privileges in India?

  • The recent case involving BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri's hate speech towards BSP MP Danish Ali has raised questions about the boundaries of parliamentary privileges. 

  1. How has the BJP responded to Ramesh Bidhuri's hate speech?

  • In response to Bidhuri's offensive remarks, the BJP issued a show cause notice to him, signaling its intolerance for such behavior within the party. Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla also expressed strong disapproval and warned of "strict action" if such behavior recurs.

About the Author: Devansh Dixit | 35 Post(s)

Devansh is a 4th-year law student from Amity Law School Noida (Uttar Pradesh), currently interning at Finology Legal. He is specialising in business and commercial laws. 

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