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Parliamentary Privileges: Special Privileges and Immunities to Indian Parliamentarians!

Parliamentary Privileges: Relevance for UPSC


GS 2: Indian Constitution, Parliament


Parliamentary Privileges: Introduction


  • Each House of Parliament and its Committees collectively and members of each House individually enjoy certain rights, privileges and immunities without which they cannot perform their functions efficiently and effectively.
  • The object of parliamentary privilege is to safeguard the freedom, authority and dignity of Parliament.


Parliamentary Privileges: What are parliamentary privileges?


  • The term `parliamentary privilege’ refers to certain rights and immunities enjoyed by each House of Parliament and Committees of each House collectively, and by Members of each House individually, without which they cannot discharge their functions efficiently and effectively.
  • The object of parliamentary privileges is to safeguard the freedom, authority and dignity of Parliament.
  • The powers, privileges and immunities of either House of Parliament and of its Committees and Members have mainly been laid down in article 105 of the Constitution.
  • The House has the power to punish any person who commits contempt of the House or a breach of any of its privileges.


Parliamentary Privileges: How they Available to Individual Members?


  • They are enjoyed by individual members, because the House cannot perform its functions without unimpeded use of the services of its members and by each House collectively for the protection of its members and the vindication of its own authority and dignity.
  • But they are available to individual members only insofar as they are necessary for the House to perform its functions freely without any let or hindrance.
  • They do not exempt the members from the obligations to society which apply to other citizens.


Parliamentary Privileges: Are the parliamentary privileges codified in India?


  • No law has so far been enacted by Parliament in pursuance of article 105(3) of the Constitution to define the powers, privileges and immunities available to each House and its Members and the Committees thereof.
  • In the absence of any such law, the powers, privileges and immunities of the Houses of Parliament, and of the Members and the Committees thereof, shall be those of that House and of its Members and Committees immediately before the coming into force of section 15 of the Constitution (Forty-fourth Amendment) Act, 1978.


Parliamentary Privileges: What is the difference between breach of privilege and contempt of the House?


  • When any of the privileges, either of the Members individually or of the House in its collective capacity, is disregarded or attacked by any individual or authority, the offence is called a ‘breach of privilege.
  • Contempt of the House may be defined generally as any act or omission which obstructs or impedes either House of Parliament in the performance of its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any Member or officers of such House in the discharge of his or her duty, or which has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results even though there is no precedent of the offence.
  • Whereas all breaches of privilege are contempts of the House, a person may be guilty of a contempt of the House even though he does not violate any of the privilege of the House, e.g. when he disobeys an order to attend a Committee or publishes reflections on the character or conduct of a Member in his capacity as a Member.


Parliamentary Privileges: What is the procedure for addressing a question of privilege?


  • A question of Parliamentary Privilege may either be considered and decided by the House itself or it may be referred by the House or by the Speaker to the Committee of Privileges for examination, investigation and report.


Parliamentary Privileges: What is the rule relating to the ‘Automatic Suspension’ of a Member?


Rule 374A of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha provides that in the event of grave disorder occasioned by a Member coming into the well of the House or abusing the rules of the House persistently and wilfully obstructing its business by shouting slogans or otherwise, such Member shall, on being named by the Speaker, stand automatically suspended from the service of the House for five consecutive sittings or the remainder of the Session, whichever is less.


Parliamentary Privileges: Are MPs immune from criminal proceedings during the session?


  • Under Article 105 of the Constitution, Members of Parliament enjoy certain privileges so that they can perform their parliamentary duties without any hindrance.
  • One of the privileges is that a Member of Parliament cannot be arrested in a civil case, 40 days before the commencement of the session or Committee meeting, and 40 days thereafter. This privilege is already incorporated under Section 135A of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908.
  • However, in criminal matters, Members of Parliament are not on a different footing than a common citizen.
  • It means that a Member of Parliament does not enjoy any immunity from being arrested in a criminal case, during the session or otherwise.
  • There have been a number of rulings by Presiding Officers. For instance, a ruling given in 1966 by Dr. Zakir Hussain was, “Members of Parliament do enjoy certain privileges so that they can perform their duties. One such privilege is freedom from arrest when the Parliament is in session. This privilege of freedom from arrest is limited only to civil cases and has not been allowed to interfere in the administration of criminal proceedings.”


Parliamentary Privileges: What the Supreme Court said in the State of Kerala Vs. K. Ajith and Others (2021)?


  • The Supreme Court in the State of Kerala Vs. K. Ajith and Others (2021), observed, that “privileges and immunities are not gateways to claim exemptions from the general law of the land, particularly as in this case, the criminal law which governs the action of every citizen.”
  • In July 2021, the Supreme Court rejected Kerala government’s plea to withdraw criminal cases against its MLAs who were charged in the assembly.
  • The Supreme court stated that Parliamentary Privileges are Not Gateways of Immunity and the legislators who indulge in vandalism and general mayhem cannot claim parliamentary privilege and immunity from criminal prosecution.


Parliamentary Privileges: How Parliamentary Committees is related to Article 105?


Parliamentary Committees have their origins in the British Parliament. They draw their authority from Article 105, which deals with the privileges of MPs, and Article 118, which gives Parliament authority to make rules to regulate its procedure and conduct of business.


Parliamentary Privileges: Privileges Committee


  • This Committee consists of 15 members (10 members in case of Rajya Sabha) nominated by the Speaker (Chairman in case of Rajya Sabha).
  • Its function is to examine every question involving breach of privilege of the House or of the members of any Committee thereof referred to it by the House or by the Speaker(Chairman in case of Rajya Sabha).
  • It determines with reference to the facts of each case whether a breach of privilege is involved and makes suitable recommendations in its report.
  • It also states the procedure to be followed by the House in giving effect to the recommendations made by it.
  • When a question of privilege is referred to the Committee by the House, the report of the Committee is presented to the House by the Chairman or, in his absence, by any member of the Committee.
  • Where a question of privilege is referred to the Committee by the Speaker under rule 227, the report of the Committee is presented to the Speaker who may pass final orders thereon or direct that it be laid on the Table of the House.

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