Privileges of Parliament do not place a Member of Parliament on a footing different from that of an ordinary citizen in the matter of the application of laws, unless there are good and sufficient reasons in the interest of Parliament itself to do so. Do you agree?
A simple definition of privilege is that it is an exceptional right or exemption. In its legal sense it means an exemption from some duty, burden, attendance or liability to which others are subject. In Parliamentary language, however, the term applies to certain rights and immunities enjoyed by each House of Parliament collectively, and by members of each House individually without which they cannot discharge their functions.
The object of Parliamentary privileges is to safeguard the freedom, the authority and the dignity of Parliament. Privileges are necessary for the proper exercise of the functions entrusted to Parliament by the Constitution. They are enjoyed by individual members, because the House cannot perform its functions without unimpeded use of the service of its members, and by each House collectively for the protection of its member and the vindication of its own authority and dignity.
• Each House of the Indian Parliament collectively and its members individually enjoy certain powers, privileges and immunities which are considered essential for them to discharge their functions and duties effectively without any let or hindrance.
• Some privileges are specified in the Constitution itself and some of them are specified in certain statutes and the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha, others are at present based on the precedents and conventions which have grown in this country, in terms of the provisions of the Constitution, until defined by Parliament by Law.
• Article 105 of the Constitution of India which provides for powers, privileges and immunities of the Houses of Parliament and of the members and Committees.
• The corresponding provisions relating to the powers, privileges and immunities of the Houses of State Legislatures and of members and Committees thereof are contained in Article 194 of the Constitution which is in identical terms to those in Article 105 relating to Parliament.
Some of the more important privileges of each House of Parliament and of its members and Committee are as follows:—
(i) Freedom of speech in Parliament [Article 105(1) of the Constitution];
(ii) Immunity to a member from any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any Committees thereof [Article 105(2) of the Constitution];
(iii) Immunity to a person from proceedings of any court in respect of the publication by or under the authority of either House of Parliament of any report, paper, votes, or proceedings [Article 105(2) of the Constitution];
(iv) Prohibition on the courts to inquire into proceedings of Parliament (Article 122 of the Constitution);
(v) Immunity to a person from any proceedings, civil or Criminal, in any court in respect of the publication in a newspaper or a substantially true report of the proceedings of either House of Parliament unless the publication is provided to have been made with malice. This immunity is also available in relation to reports or matters broadcast by means of wireless- telegraphy (Article 361A);
(vi) Exemption of members from liability to serve as juror;
(vii) Prohibition of disclosure of the proceedings or decision of a secret sitting of the House;
(viii) Rights of the House to receive immediate information of the arrests, detention, convictions, imprisonment and release of a member (Rules 229 and 230 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha, Ninth edition);
(ix) Prohibition of arrest and services of legal process within the precincts of the House without obtaining the permission of the Speaker (Rules 232 and 233 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha Ninth Edition);
(x) Members or officers of the House cannot give evidence or produce documents in courts of law, relating to the proceedings of the House without the permission of the House. (First Report of Committee of Privileges of Second Lok Sabha, adopted by Lok Sabha on 13 September, 1957);
(xi) Members or officers of the House cannot attend as a witness before the other House or a Committee thereof or before a House of State Legislature or a Committee thereof without the permission of the House and they cannot be compelled to do so without their consent (Sixth Report of Committee of Privileges of Second Lok Sabha, adopted by Lok Sabha on 17th December, 1958);
(xii) All Parliamentary Committees are empowered to send for persons, papers and records relevant for the purpose of the enquiry by a Committee……..A witness may be summoned by a Parliamentary Committee who may be required to produce such documents as are required for the use of a Committee (Rules 269 and 270 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha);
(xiii) A Parliamentary Committee may administer oath or affirmation to a witness examined before it (Rule 272 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha);
(xiv) The evidence tendered before a Parliamentary Committee and its report and proceedings cannot be disclosed or published by anyone until these have been laid on the Table of the House (Rule 275 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha).
Note: You need not mention all of the above. Mention only few important provisions.
Misuse of Parliamentary Privileges
• There is no conclusive legislation to define privileges and resultantly, the punishments for the breach are also not definite.
• In most of the cases media houses are restricted from publishing debates, proceedings, commentaries and even opinions.
• And it is obvious that the government in power would label any publication for breach of privilege if it finds it distasteful.
• This clearly shows the arbitrariness with which the press is punished for doing its work which it is legally entitled to do under Art. 19(1)(a).
• It is an established fact that the legislative privileges have done more harm than good as the politicians have abused this power to seek protection from the offences of bribery, defamation, etc. for a long time.
• The current state of affairs would not reach a resolve until a codified law is in place which would define the privileges, what would constitute their breach and what would be the consequences of such breach.
Therefore, it is the need of the hour that if government want to maintain the dignity of the democracy then it should make appropriate changes in the parliamentary privileges because nobody can be superior to the general public.