Table of Contents
THE CONTEXT: Recently, Lok Sabha’s Ethics Committee has initiated investigation on a Member of Parliament (MPs). It has been alleged that MP had received money for putting questions up in Parliament. The Speaker, in turn, referred the complaint to the Ethics Committee for examination and a report.
LOK SABHA’S ETHICS COMMITTEE
- The Ethics Committee of the Lok Sabha is a relatively new committee which was set up in 2000, with a mandate to examine every complaint that related to the unethical conduct of MPs referred to it and to recommend action. It was also tasked with formulating a code of conduct for MPs.
- However, the committee has not defined the term ‘unethical conduct’ anywhere. It is left entirely to the committee to examine a particular act of conduct and decide whether it is unethical or not.
- It consists of not more than fifteen members and nominated by the Speaker. They shall hold office for a term not exceeding one year.
- To oversee the moral and ethical conduct of the Members
- To examine the cases referred to it with reference to ethical and other misconduct of the Members
- Any person or member may make a complaint relating to unethical conduct of a member to the committee
- In the case of the Ethics Committee, only an MP can be examined for misconduct
HISTORY OF ETHICS COMMITTEES
- The idea of ethics panels for the two Houses was first mooted in 1996 by Presiding Officers’ Conference.
- Then Vice President and Rajya Sabha Chairman K R Narayanan constituted the Ethics Committee of the Upper House in 1997. It is to oversee the moral and ethical conduct of members and examine cases of misconduct referred to it. The Rules applicable to the Committee of Privileges also apply to the ethics panel.
- In the case of Lok Sabha, a study group of the House Committee of Privileges, after visiting Australia, the UK, and the US in 1997 to look into practices pertaining to the conduct and ethics of legislators, recommended the constitution of an Ethics Committee, but it could not be taken up by Lok Sabha.
- The Committee of Privileges finally recommended the constitution of an Ethics Committee during the 13th Lok Sabha.
- The late Speaker, G M C Balayogi, constituted an ad hoc Ethics Committee in 2000, which became a permanent part of the House only in 2015.
PROCEDURE FOR COMPLAINTS
- Any person can complain against a Member through another Lok Sabha MP, along with evidence of the alleged misconduct, and an affidavit stating that the complaint is not “false, frivolous, or vexatious”. If the Member himself complains, the affidavit is not needed.
- The Speaker can refer to the Committee any complaint against an MP. The Committee makes a prima facie inquiry before deciding to examine a complaint. It makes its recommendations after evaluating the complaint.
- The Committee presents its report to the Speaker, who asks the House if the report should be taken up for consideration. There is also a provision for a half-hour discussion on the report.
PROCESS OF EXPULSION OF MPs
- If an MP takes money for putting questions up in Parliament, they will be guilty of breach of privilege and contempt of the House. Such complaints are invariably referred to the Committee of Privileges for investigation.
- This committee, after a proper investigation, submits its findings in a report along with the recommendation for action against the MP in question.
- If a case involving illegal gratification for conducting parliamentary work is proven, the MP may even be expelled from the House.
- There have been such instances in the Lok Sabha where MPs were expelled from the House on this ground. For example, in 2005, a sting operation by a private channel showed 10 Members of the Lok Sabha accepting money for putting questions up in Parliament. Then, a special committee was appointed which found them guilty of conduct and recommended their expulsion, which was accepted by the House. All the MPs were expelled.
- Generally, complaints of MPs accepting money for parliamentary work are referred to the privileges committee or special committees appointed by the House for that purpose.
- However, the recent case has been referred to the Ethics Committee, although the allegation is about illegal gratification for doing parliamentary work.
OVERLAP WITH PRIVILEGES COMMITTEE:
- The work of the Ethics Committee and thePrivileges Committee often overlap. An allegation of corruption against an MP can be sent to either body, but usually more serious accusations go to the Privileges Committee.
- The mandate of the Privileges Committee is to safeguard the “freedom, authority, and dignity of Parliament”.
- These privileges are enjoyed by individual Members as well as the House as a whole.
- An MP can be examined forBreach of Privilege; a non-MP too can be accused of breach of privilege for actions that attack the authority and dignity of the House.
- However, the Ethics Committee can take up only cases of misconduct that involve MPs.
WHAT CAN HAPPEN NEXT?
- If the recent case came out as illegal gratification, then the case becomes a case of breach of privilege and cannot be dealt with by the ethics committee.
- Since a public servant accepting a bribe is a criminal offence, it is normally investigated by the criminal investigative agencies of the government.
- Parliamentary committees do not deal with criminal investigation. They decide on the basis of evidence whether the conduct of the MP is a breach of privilege or contempt of the House and punish them accordingly.
THE WAY FORWARD
- Proper regulation of the MPs: MPs work and ethics should be properly regulated for efficient functioning of the Parliament. Here, a dedicated units can be set up in the parliament to monitor the observance of the Code of Ethics. The unit should also be empowered to receive public complaints regarding violation of the Code of Conduct.
- Proper reporting: There is a need for proper reporting of the work of each member of the Parliament. In this case, an annual report with regard to the observance of these Codes should be submitted to the appropriate legislature with specific cases of violations.
- Increasing the role of ethics committee: There is a need of increasing the role of ethics committee to ensure proper conduct of members of parliament. Also, clarity in defining ‘unethical conduct’ could enhance transparency.
Lok Sabha Ethics Committee plays a critical role in upholding the ethical standards of India’s parliamentary members. Members of Parliament must adhere to the ethical code of conduct to ensure transparency and accountability within the Lok Sabha. This will create a responsible parliamentary system, ultimately benefiting the democratic process and the nation as a whole.
PREVIOUS YEAR QUESTIONS
Q.1 To what extent, in your view, the Parliament is able to ensure accountability of the executive in India? (2021)
Q.2 Why do you think the committees are considered to be useful for parliamentary work? Discuss, in this context, the role of the Estimates Committee. (2018)
MAINS PRACTICE QUESTIONS
Q.1 How can the ethics committee of the parliament can serve as a guardian of parliamentary ethics, ensuring that members adhere to the highest moral standards while fulfilling their legislative responsibilities? Explain.
Q.2 The Ethics Committee’s work, while often overshadowed by privilege committee, is integral to maintaining the integrity of the Lok Sabha. Comment.Spread the Word