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Parliamentary Privilege

Parliamentary Privilege
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Opposition parties will move privilege motions against External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in the Rajya Sabha for allegedly misinforming the Upper...

Opposition parties will move privilege motions against External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in the Rajya Sabha for allegedly misinforming the Upper House on India's foreign policy. While one motion pertains to the Bandung Asia Africa relations conference, the second one is on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Lahore visit in 2015.

As per Rule No 222 in Chapter 20 of the Lok Sabha Rule Book and Rule 187 in Chapter 16 of the Rajya Sabha rule book, a member may, with the consent of the Speaker or the Chairperson, raise a question involving a breach of privilege either of a member or of the House or of a committee thereof.

Parliamentary privilege refers to rights and immunities enjoyed by Parliament as an institution and MPs in their individual capacity, without which they cannot discharge their functions as entrusted upon them by the Constitution. In the absence of any such law, it continues to be governed by British Parliamentary conventions.

In 1967, two people were held to be in contempt of Rajya Sabha, for having thrown leaflets from the visitors’ gallery. In 1983, one person was held in breach for shouting slogans and throwing chappals from the visitors’ gallery. What is the punishment in case of breach of privilege or contempt of the House? The house can ensure attendance of the offending person. The person can be given a warning and let go or be sent to prison as the case may be.

In the case of throwing leaflets and chappal, the offending individuals were sentenced to simple imprisonment. In 2008, an editor of an Urdu weekly referred to the deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha as a “coward” attributing motives to a decision taken by him. The privileges committee held the editor guilty of breach of privilege.

The committee instead of recommending punishment stated that, “it would be better if the House saves its own dignity by not giving undue importance to such irresponsible articles published with the sole intention of gaining cheap publicity.” (Contains excerpts from an article at http://www.prsindia.org)

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