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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Explained: What constitutes a breach of legislature’s privilege?

This week, the Houses in Maharashtra moved motions of breach of privilege against Arnab Goswami and Kangana Ranaut. What is the procedure followed in such a case, and what can be the punishment?

Written by Vishwas Waghmode , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai | Updated: September 16, 2020 1:58:24 pm
Arnab Goswami and Kangana Ranaut faces privilege motions in the Maharashtra Assembly and Maharashtra Legislative Council respectively.

A motion for breach of privilege was moved in the Maharashtra Assembly against Republic TV’s Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami on Tuesday (September 8). A similar motion was moved in the Maharashtra Legislative Council against actor Kangana Ranaut.

The truncated two-day Monsoon Session having ended on Tuesday, the motions could not be taken up by the lawmakers.

Which provisions of the Constitution protect the privileges of the legislature?

The powers, privileges and immunities of either House of the Indian Parliament and of its Members and committees are laid down in Article 105 of the Constitution.

Article 194 deals with the powers, privileges and immunities of the State Legislatures, their Members and their committees.

Parliamentary privilege refers to the right and immunity enjoyed by legislatures, in which legislators are granted protection against civil or criminal liability for actions done or statements made in the course of their legislative duties.

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What constitutes a breach of this privilege?

While the Constitution has accorded special privileges and powers to parliamentarians and legislators to maintain the dignity and authority of the Houses, these powers and privileges are not codified. Thus, there are no clear, notified rules to decide what constitutes a breach of privilege, and the punishment it attracts.

Any act that obstructs or impedes either House of the state legislature in performing its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any Member or officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results is treated as breach of privilege.

It is a breach of privilege and contempt of the House to make speeches or to print or publish libel reflecting on the character or proceedings of the House, or its Committees, or on any member of the House for or relating to his character or conduct as a legislator.

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What is the procedure to be followed in cases of alleged breach of the legislature’s privilege?

The Legislative Assembly Speaker or Legislative Council Chairman constitutes a Privileges Committee consisting of 15 members in the Assembly and 11 members in the Council.

The members to the committee are nominated based on the party strength in the Houses.

Anant Kalse, retired principal secretary of the Maharashtra State Legislature, said that the Speaker or Chairman first decides on the motions. “If the privilege and contempt are found prima facie, then the Speaker or Chairman will forward it to the Privileges Committee by following the due procedure,” Kalse said.

In Goswami’s case, the Committee will examine whether statements made by him had insulted the state legislature and its Members, and whether their image was maligned before the public.

At present, there is no Privileges Committee in either House of the state legislature. Kalse said that the Committee, which has quasi-judicial powers, will seek an explanation from all the concerned, will conduct an inquiry and will make a recommendation based on the findings to the state legislature for its consideration.

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What is the punishment for an individual who is found guilty of breaching the legislature’s privilege?

If the Committee finds the offender guilty of breach of privilege and contempt, it can recommend the punishment. The punishment can include communicating the displeasure of the state legislature to the offender, summoning the offender before the House and giving a warning, and even sending the offender to jail.

In the case of the media, press facilities of the state legislature may be withdrawn, and a public apology may be sought.

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