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It's a privilege to give & take!

It's a privilege to give & take!

Author: T R Jawahar (trjawahar@vsnl.net)
Publication: News Today
Date: July 26, 2008
URL: http://newstodaynet.com/col.php?section=20&catid=30

The MPs are quite a privi leged lot. Ayes or nays, they have it good either way. And choosing the middle path of abstinence is even more rewarding, as some of them would have discovered on 22 July. The post of an MP, intended to be an office of service to the people,

had long back morphed into an office of profit(CTC -- Cost to Country per MP per Year is Rs 32 lakh, by a conservative estimate); but now it is an office of fortune, thanks to newer opportunities. A few more confidence motions, and Parliament would become a prosperous Special Economic Zone, with its five hundred odd members topping the charts of the global rich!

But was this the privilege the Constitution conferred on them? A look at the relevant provision would be in order: Art 105(2) says, 'No member of Parliament shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any committee thereof, and no person shall be so liable in respect of the publication by or under the authority of either House of Parliament of any report, paper, votes or proceedings.' The sweeping protection given to Parliamentary proceedings is based on some underlying presumptions: Parliament is sacred and its sanctity should be protected at all costs; the members who occupy it represent the people; they are engaged in the task of running the nation; hence whatever they speak and do inside those circular walls should be considered in that spirit and not be subjected to unwarranted scrutiny that might inhibit or jeopardise the basic task of governance.

Each of these assumptions is a joke today. Sure, Parli is the temple of our democracy. Now an Afzal Guru who wanted to physically destroy that temple is consistently skipping the noose because the rulers, for well known reasons, are unable to muster the guts and gumption to hang him, despite the Supreme Court ordaining it. Imagine the fate of that temple had Afzal & co succeeded! Now, whose act of omission has undermined that temple? Again, if Parli is sacred, its conduct should bear it so. But what are the visions that come to mind when one thinks of it? Pandemonium, bedlam, ruckus, walkouts, and now, bribe, horse-trading, cash, bags and bundles have all become an integral part of the parliamentary lexicon. Suffice it to say that no responsible parent aspiring for a well-behaved ward would want the latter to watch Parli proceedings! In fact, these days, teachers faced with an unruly classroom routinely cry out: 'is this Parliament?'. Earlier they used to say,' Is this a lunatic asylum or what?! What a fall ... for classrooms!

But let's grant it, in the nation's own enlightened self-interest, that the foremost institution of our democracy is deemed sacred, even if it is not and that its reputation should be protected, even when it is a tall order. So, drawing a distinction between that institution and the individuals who occupy it, should we extend the same charitable outlook to the latter? Alas, the Constitution says so and if the JMM bribery case is a guidepost, the judiciary too concurs. But that does not deter us from asking a basic question: Should the MPs be covered by the umbrella protection of Parliamentary privilege under Art 105(2) for acts which are indecent, immoral and illegal by normal standards just because they happen to be either speaking or voting within those secure precincts? In short, do they deserve that protection?

Let's get back to the presumptions for privlege. MPs are supposed to be people's reps. But ironically, once elected, they actually cease to represent their voters and are a law unto themselves. Again, they have very little to do with the running of the nation. Most of them hardly have a grasp of the issues agitating the nation, and their voices and votes are often sponsored by vested interests outside, as we have seen in the cash-for-query scam of the past or the note for-vote scandal of latest vintage. And to claim that their reckless words and deeds constitute credible, intelligent debate is most perverted. Ideally live coverage of proceedings should have tempered that boisterous crowd. But they seem to take pride in performing their antics in full public view. May be one sure way of salvaging parliamentary respect is to switch off the cameras. The nation too would be spared a lot of agony.

To their credit, the MPs have done their best to forfeit the constitutional largesse of privilege. But unfortunately, the law of the land has consistently stood by them by thrusting immunity upon them. As the law stands today, post JMM bribery case, an MP who takes a bribe and votes in Parliament cannot be prosecuted. By a queer legal logic, MPs who gave bribes and MPs who took bribes but did not vote were not granted protection. Honour among ... whatever. Even in the cash-for-query scam, while the SC upheld Parliament's decision to expel the bribe-taking MPs, no criminal prosecution was initiated against them. Clearly MPs are above law and more equal than those who make them MPs. And while by definition they too are public servants, again they are above their peers in government. Now consider this hugely possible but bizarre situation: A flying mike, despatched by a member during a vote-of-trust debate, kills another. Now, will the one who launched it, ie, the mike, not the debate, be arrested? Well, our Parliamentary democracy truly tests our limits!Given the trends, it is actually the people who need protection from their elected reps.

A first step could be the withdrawal or an amendment, at the least, of the provision of Parliamentary privilege under Art 105(2), so that Shibu Sorens are put out of business. The Constitution gives an opening. Art 105(3) says: ' ...the powers, privileges and immunities of each House of Parliament, and of the members and the committees of each House, shall be such as may from time to time be defined by Parliament by law, ...'. The time is indeed ripe for Parliament to pass a law redefining its own privilge cover. But for that to happen, there must be a motion, lots of commotion and finally a vote by MPs. And the whole nation now knows what should be done to secure that vote. Only that care should be taken to do whatever it takes well within the rules of privilige, no matter if the law is bent or even broken ...one last time!

Or better still: Enlist Amar Singh for bargain deals and assured results.

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