Police cross-questions his office,Speaker smells breach of privilege

Assualt on house staff : Speaker’s office can ask police to register FIR,cannot be cross-questioned: Constitutional expert.

Written by Sukhdeep Kaur | Chandigarh | Updated: April 14, 2014 4:45:56 pm

The complainant,in this case,is the Chair. And it enjoys many privileges. During the budget session in March this year,Punjab Assembly Speaker Charanjit Atwal reminded Chandigarh Police of the privileges of the House when it dithered in registering FIRs against 15 Congress MLAs for “assaulting” a Punjab Police head constable deployed as watch and ward staff.

The police,on its part,has begun the investigation by shooting a questionnaire to the Assembly secretariat. Among others things,it wants to know if police officers can be deputed as watch and ward staff,what are their duties inside the Assembly and if they have access beyond the Assembly hall.

In obvious reference to counter-complaint of the Congress that its party office within Assembly premises was raided,the Chandigarh Police has also asked if the CLP office is a part of the Assembly and falls within its territorial jurisdiction. Questioning the source for the CCTV footage on the “assault”,the police has requested for the original footage to send it to the Central Forensic Laboratory in Chandigarh for examination.

However,Assembly Speaker Charanjit Atwal says the chair cannot be treated as just another complainant. “The House has its own privileges. The complainant in this case is the policeman who was assaulted and my office just forwarded it. I have sought legal opinion of some experts from the Parliament on whether the police can cross question the Speaker’s office,” Atwal said.

Noted constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap says the Speaker’s office can seek the help of the police to register a case but police has no jurisdiction to cross-question it. “The Assembly secretariat works on behalf of the Speaker. On principle,the police cannot question what is authorised by the Speaker within the Assembly and it is entirely his prerogative whether he wants to answer the questions sent by the police,” Kashyap said.

The Chandigarh Police says the questions were framed to ensure a thorough investigation into the incident. “Since the Speaker’s office is the complainant,we have requested them to provide some information. It is important to establish if the complainant was supposed to be present there to carry out his duties. We have asked the areas to which the ward and ward staff has access to and what are the privileges of the MLAs and whether they are confined to the Assembly. Also,the CD containing the CCTV footage was submitted to us by the Speaker’s office. We want to know the source of the footage and if there is an original copy so that we can send it to the CFSL for verification. We have asked these questions to help the cause of investigation,” Chandigarh IG RP Upadhyaya said.

The Assembly secretariat says the Chandigarh Police is trying to “undermine the authority of the Chair”. “The case is of assault on a watch and ward staff and we have submitted the necessary proof. The police cannot question if the Speaker had the right to deploy the person who was assaulted,” a Vidhan Sabha official said.

On March 14,UT police had booked 15 Congress MLAs for assault on a “public servant and extortion” on complaint filed by head constable Jaipal Singh. In his complaint,he had alleged that he was assaulted by the MLAs in the Assembly and his identity card was forcibly snatched. Hours after the FIR against 15 Congress MLAs,a party team led by Leader of Opposition Sunil Jakhar gave a complaint regarding the Punjab Police personnel raiding the CLP office in the Assembly complex.

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