Parliamentary privileges must be codified

Parliamentary privileges must be codified

The rationale of Parliamentary privileges is the business of Parliament must be carried on without impediment from any quarter because law-making is of supreme importance to the nation

Olav AlbuquerqueUpdated: Sunday, November 05, 2023, 08:29 PM IST
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The fiery, feisty TMC MP, Mahua Moitra, stormed out of the ethics committee comprising MPs from both the ruling and opposition MPs. Opposition MPs also walked out in protest against questions which they claimed were inappropriate because this was nothing but “revenge politics.” Moitra alleged this scandal erupted because her jilted partner, Supreme Court advocate, Jai Anant Dehadrai, wrote to the CBI for a probe after he was denied custody of a pet Rottweiler dog, Henry.

Added to the allegations of revenge by her jilted partner, is alleged revenge by her political detractors fuelled by multi-billionaire Gautam Adani, whose business rival was Darshan Hiranandani, CEO of the entire Hiranandani group. But the tycoon has claimed that his misdemeanours were in a personal capacity and had nothing to do with the business empire founded by his father, Niranjan Hiranandani.

There is no doubt that Darshan Hiranandani used Moitra’s login id and password 47 times from Dubai to email the questions. But Moitra claims she was the one who asked all the questions and she only used Hiranandani’s staff to formulate the questions, some of which were about Adani, who is believed to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Whether Hiranandani was pressurised to file the affidavit is not known, nor can it ever be proved.

BJP MP Nishikant Dubey has alleged that the questions raised by TMC MP, Mahua Moitra, about Gautam Adani, were done at the behest of Darshan Hiranandani, who gave gifts to the MP who has admitted she received a shawl, a lipstick and eyeliner brought from Dubai by Darshan Hirandani. But she has denied ever having received cash from Hiranandani who has not mentioned anywhere in his affidavit that he gave her cash.

To give a further twist to the case, Moitra had earlier alleged that Adani approached her indirectly through two MPs and offered her cash not to raise inconvenient questions until the ensuing general elections were over, according to news channels. The whole sordid episode may wind up in the Supreme Court, which will have to iterate what constitutes a breach of privilege. Till date, these privileges have never been codified. And unless these are codified, scandals, and violation of ethical conduct will continue to erupt from time-to-time.

A privilege is an exemption from the law or benefit enjoyed by a class of persons like MPs, MLAs or judges. Looked at from this aspect, privilege consists of that bundle of advantages which Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha MPs and MLAs from the state legislatures enjoy or have enjoyed in the past. One of these is that the police cannot enter Parliament or any of the state legislatures when the house is in session. It is the Speaker of the house who maintains discipline within the house and can direct an unruly MP or MLA to withdraw from the house for disorderly conduct.

Justice Michael Saldanha who was a senior judge of the Bombay High Court and retired from the Karnataka high court in 2004, has authored the most erudite judgments on contempt. “Unless there is a clear case of deliberate disrespect or care-a-damn attiude, there is no contempt committed. Whatever may have been the reasons for her to storm out, she may not have done it deliberately. Hence, I feel there is no offence committed if the questions asked by the members of the ethics sub-committee offended her sensibilities,” he explained.

The rationale of Parliamentary privileges is the business of Parliament must be carried on without impediment from any quarter because law-making is of supreme importance to the nation. The dignity right and respect for an individual is the fulcrum, which is based on the principle of freedom and capacity to make choices and a good or just social order is one which respects dignity of the individual. Of course, Moitra will allege her dignity as an individual has been flouted.

Although Mahua Moitra stormed out alleging the ethics committee was asking her irrelevant questions, her detractors allege she has been unable to explain why she did not disclose to the Parliamentary secretariat that she had made 14 alleged “unaccounted” trips abroad which as per protocol, she is mandated to disclose which country she was visiting, whether it was in her personal capacity or on invitation as an MP and if she would be addressing audiences abroad pertaining to issues in Bharat.

Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly, former Supreme Court judge, said, “she should not have stormed out. She could have stayed and replied to the questions. But whatever her reasons, this is not contempt of the house.”

The Parliamentary ethics committee does not have the jurisdiction and powers of a criminal court to ascertain all the facts and send both Mahua Moitra and Darshan Hiranandani to jail if they are guilty of criminal conspiracy and endangering Parliamenatry sovereignty and security. The login id and password are the intellectual property of the Lok Sabha.

Moitra has filed a defamation suit against BJP MP Nishikant Dubey and her estranged partner, Jai Anant Dehadrai who told the court in person that Mahua Moitra’s Senior Counsel, Gopal Sankaranarayan, had contacted him over the phone and told him to withdraw his complaint to the CBI which started the ball rolling, in exchange for their pet Rottweiller, Henry. So, breach of Parliamentary privilege is mixed up with defamation but the two issues will be decided separately by the court and the ethics committee.

Mahua Moitra has attacked the ruling Modi government on numerous occasions with her fiery speeches in Parliament, one of which was the entry of the former CJI Ranjan Gogoi, into Parliament after a woman staffer accused him of misbehaving with her. The women judges comprising the Supreme Court panel set up to examine the allegations against the former CJI Gogi held these allegations had not been proved. But the woman staffer was reinstated in the Supreme Court after the 47th CJI, Sharad Bobde, assured her she and her family would not be harassed.

Moitra combines glamour with feistiness and is a role model for young girls seeking to enter Parliament. That her Parliamentary login id and password were used from Dubai is clearly a breach of security because it is from this login id and password used to login to the official email, that starred or unstarred questions are raised in Parliament.

MPs, like cabinet ministers who are selected by the Prime Minister himself, take an oath of secrecy which implies nobody is supposed to know the wording of a starred or unstarred question until it figures during question hour. There have been allegations in the past that business houses which fund political parties through electoral bonds or by way of donations to ensure they are not hounded after certain political parties come to power, ensure their interests are protected by the government which is run by political parties who espouse an ideology to sway the people and garner votes.


Olav Albuquerque holds a PhD in law and is a senior journalist and advocate at the Bombay High Court

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