What is the ETHICS COMMITTEE?
- The Ethics Committee, one of 36 parliamentary panels of the Lok Sabha, which works throughout the year.
- It plays an important role in upholding Parliament’s dignity and ensuring there are adequate checks and balances.
- It is the only committee that probes lay citizen’s complaints against lawmakers of the Lok Sabha.
- The Committee examines complaints filed against members of the House by:
- other members; - outsiders through a member; - or referred by the Speaker;
- The Committee makes a prima facie inquiry before deciding to examine a complaint and presents its report to the Speaker, who places it before the House for consideration.
- The Rajya Sabha has a similar panel.
- The Lok Sabha ethics committee was constituted in 2000, to oversee the moral and ethical conduct of members and examine cases of ‘unethical conduct’ referred to it.
- The Rajya Sabha set up its Ethics Committee before the Lok Sabha.
- In October 1996, a conference of the presiding officers of state assemblies and Parliament was held in New Delhi.
- At the meeting, several legislative Speakers supported a proposal to set up Ethics Committees in both Parliament and state assemblies.
- The Rajya Sabha constituted its first ethics panel on March 4, 1997, which was inaugurated by then Vice-President and House Chairman KR Narayanan on May 30, 1997.
- The primary mandate of the Ethics Committee is to oversee and ensure adherence to the highest moral and ethical standards by the members of the parliament (MPs).
- The committee scrutinizes the conduct of MPs both within the house and in their broader public life.
- By doing so, it aims to maintain the honor and dignity of the parliamentary institution and foster public confidence in its operations.
What is “UNETHICAL”?
- The term ‘unethical’ is not defined.
- It is left to the Committee to decide whether any act is unethical or not.
- In 2007, an MP accompanying his close female companion, impersonating her as his wife was considered ‘unethical’ by the Committee.
- It recommended suspension of the MP from 30 sittings of the House.
- The Ethics Committee is a bipartisan body, comprising members from various political parties, to ensure a fair and balanced assessment of conduct.
- It operates on the principles of natural justice, ensuring that every MP under scrutiny is given a fair opportunity to present their case.
- Upon receiving a complaint or noticing an instance of alleged unethical conduct, the committee conducts a preliminary assessment to determine the merit of the case.
- If the initial review suggests a prima facie violation, a more comprehensive investigation ensues, followed by a report with recommendations that can range from admonishment to suspension, and in severe cases, even a recommendation for expulsion.
Is an EXPULSION constitutional?
- The Constitution under Article 101 lists down the grounds for vacation of a seat by an MP.
- It includes voluntary resignation, disqualification and continuous absence from the House for 60 sittings.
Expulsion is not mentioned explicitly in the Constitution.
- However, the Supreme Court has provided conflicting judgments in this regard.
- In Raja Ram Pal versus Hon’ble Speaker (2007), it upheld the power of Parliament to expel its members for breach of privilege by interpreting Article 101 to include expulsion as a ground.
- But in Amarinder Singh versus Special committee, Punjab Vidhan Sabha (2010), the Supreme Court held expulsion by the State Assembly as unconstitutional. It held that such scenarios would frustrate the objectives of Parliamentary democracy.
Can anyone file a complaint against an MP? Yes.
- Any Indian citizen can file a complaint against a lawmaker.
- But, in 2014, a sub-committee suggested that such a provision would allow any political rival to lodge complaints against a lawmaker on flimsy grounds.
- The rule was then modified to the extent that a complaint had to be submitted to the panel through a lawmaker.
- The idea behind the modification was that a lawmaker would try to protect a fellow MP from non-serious allegations.
CHALLENGES and CRITICISM
The committee’s decisions are not without their challenges.
There is often a thin line between enforcing discipline and encroaching on the independence and freedom of parliamentary debate and action.
Moreover, the committee’s recommendations may stir political controversies, especially if they are perceived to be excessively punitive or lenient.
The Ethics Committee is an indispensable part of parliamentary democracy, acting as a moral compass and safeguarding the sanctity of the legislative process.