Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu said in the Upper House on Friday that MPs did not have immunity from being arrested in criminal cases — when the House is in session or otherwise. He said MPs could not avoid summons from law enforcement agencies.
On Friday morning, Rajya Sabha proceedings were adjourned for almost half an hour, until 11.30 am, as Congress members created an uproar alleging misuse of investigating agencies by the government.
“…Going by what has happened in the last few days, I want to clarify one thing that there is a wrong notion among members that they have privilege from action by agencies while the session is on. I have given it serious thought. I examined all the precedents and I remember my own ruling given earlier,” Naidu said when the House reassembled after the adjournment.
He emphasised that under Article 105 of the Constitution, MPs enjoy “certain privileges so that they can perform their parliamentary duties without let or hindrance”. “One of the privileges is that a Member of Parliament cannot be arrested in a civil case 40 days before the commencement of the session or committee meeting, and 40 days thereafter. This privilege is already incorporated under Section 135A of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908,” Naidu said.
However, in connection with criminal matters, he said MPs “are not on a different footing than a common citizen”.
“It means that a Member of Parliament does not enjoy any immunity from being arrested in a criminal case during the session or otherwise. There have been a number of rulings by Presiding Officers,” Naidu said.
He specifically referred to one ruling given in 1966 by Dr Zakir Hussain, who was then Rajya Sabha Chairman. “It was said: ‘Members of Parliament do enjoy certain privileges so that they can perform their duties. One such privilege is freedom from arrest when the Parliament is in session. This privilege of freedom from arrest is limited only to civil cases and has not been allowed to interfere in the administration of criminal proceedings,’” Naidu said.
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Naidu also cited an observation that he previously made. “…In the observation, I said no member should avoid appearing before any investigating agency, when she or he is called upon to do so, by citing the reason of House duty. As lawmakers, it is our bounden duty to respect the law and legal procedures. It applies to all, in all cases, because you can only inform that the House is in session, seeking a further date, but you cannot avoid the enforcement agencies or the law enforcing agencies’ summons or notices. This has to be taken note of by all,” Naidu said.
Naidu also cited a Supreme Court observation regarding the matter. “In a landmark case, K Anandan Nambiar and Another, the Supreme Court of India held that the true constitutional position is that so far as a valid order of detention is concerned, a Member of Parliament can claim no special status higher than that of an ordinary citizen and is as much liable to be arrested, detained or questioned even during the session,” he said.