Lok Sabha Ethics Committee
In News: Lok Sabha Ethics Committee
GS- III >> Environment >> Pollution
Context: The case involves allegations that an MP from West Bengal accepted money in exchange for raising concerns about ethical conduct in Parliament.
About Lok Sabha Ethics’ Committee:
- Established over 20 years ago, the Ethics Committee of Lok Sabha carries the crucial responsibility of monitoring the behaviour of its members and addressing instances of unethical conduct among parliamentarians.
- While it often deals with relatively minor offenses, its role in upholding ethical standards within the parliament is of great importance.
Composition of the Committee:
- This Committee consists of 15 members nominated by the Speaker.
- The members of the Ethics Committee are selected by the Speaker for a one-year term.
- Its function is to examine every complaint relating to unethical conduct of a Member of Lok Sabha referred to it by the Speaker and make such recommendations as it may deem fit and formulate a code of conduct for Members and suggest amendments or additions to the code of conduct from time to time.
History of Ethics Committees:
- The concept of ethics committees for both Houses was first proposed during a conference for Presiding Officers in Delhi in 1996.
- In March 1997, the Ethics Committee for the Upper House was officially inaugurated, with Shri K R Narayanan, who was concurrently serving as Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice President, leading the initiative.
- Its primary objective was to ensure the ethical conduct of members and investigate reported instances of impropriety, applying the same regulations that govern the Committee of Privileges.
Ethics committee’s functions:
- It primarily examines complaints related to unethical conduct by Members of Parliament (MPs) and provides recommendations for action.
- Notably, the term ‘unethical conduct’ is not specifically defined, and its interpretation falls to the committee.
- Past cases offer insights into identifying unethical behaviour, such as an MP taking an unauthorized companion on a parliamentary tour, falsely claiming them as a spouse.
- In such cases, the ethics committee has recommended suspending the MP from House sittings and imposing travel restrictions for the remainder of the Lok Sabha’s term.
Criminal Offenses and Parliamentary Investigation:
- In cases related to criminal offenses, public servant accepting a bribe, government criminal investigative agencies typically handle the investigations.
- Parliamentary committees are responsible for determining whether an MP’s conduct amounts to a breach of privilege or contempt of the House.
- Sanctions imposed by these committees pertain to the MP’s functioning within the house.
- Any criminal offenses are subject to investigation and legal consequences under the relevant laws.
Overlap with Privileges Committee:
- There is often an overlap in the responsibilities of the Ethics Committee and the Privileges Committee, with both having roles in addressing allegations against MPs.
- Allegations of corruption involving an MP can be referred to either committee, but more serious charges typically go to the Privileges Committee.
- The Privileges Committee is primarily tasked with safeguarding the ‘freedom, authority, and dignity of Parliament.’
- These privileges extend to individual Members of Parliament (MPs) as well as the House as a whole.
- An MP can face examination for Breach of Privilege, and even non-MPs can be accused of breaching privilege if their actions undermine the authority and dignity of the House.
- It’s important to note that the Ethics Committee’s jurisdiction is limited to cases of misconduct involving MPs.
Action recommended by ethics committee:
- Lok Sabha’s Ethics Committee examines and suggests actions on MPs’ ethical conduct.
- It reviews the code of conduct expected from MPs.
- Actions recommended include:
- Admonition: A warning or admonishment for conduct or ethics breaches.
- Suspension: Temporarily suspending an MP for serious misconduct.
- Expulsion: Removing an MP for severe misbehaviour.
- Lok Sabha considers these suggestions, but they aren’t legally binding.
- A majority Lok Sabha vote is needed to implement expulsion or suspension.
Challenging ethics committee actions:
- Generally, Ethics Committee actions are part of Parliament’s internal processes.
- Courts usually do not review these decisions, respecting the separation of powers.
- However, exceptions exist to protect the Constitution and fundamental rights.
- If Parliament exceeds its authority or violates rights, courts can intervene.
- Legal challenges are rare, requiring specific legal and constitutional considerations.
- Court challenges can be based on natural justice denial, illegality, or unconstitutionality.
- High Court writ petitions are suitable for state-level matters; Supreme Court for national issues.
- Ensure fundamental rights align with Ethics Committee or Parliament actions to warrant court intervention.
- Despite its recent origin, the Ethics Committee is vital for upholding high moral standards.
- It serves as a guardian of parliamentary ethics, preserving Lok Sabha’s integrity.
- MPs sharing online question submission credentials with assistants is a growing concern. MPs can engage assistance without disclosing information sources.
- Article 105 grants MPs freedom to access diverse sources for parliamentary work.