The provisions of the Constitution dealing with Parliamentary privileges and immunities bear a special mark of indebtedness to the centuries-old conventions established and maintained in this regard by the mother of Parliaments, the British Parliament.
In fact, this is the only section where a direct reference to the House of Commons was originally made in the Constitution. Article 105 deals with the powers, privileges and immunities of the Houses of Parliament, their members and Committees.
It guarantees to every member freedom of speech in Parliament and grants immunity from proceedings in any Court of law in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or in any of its Committees. A similar immunity is granted in respect of any publication under the authority of either House of Parliament of reports, papers, votes or proceedings.
So far Parliament has not been able to do much with regard to the codification of the powers, privileges and immunities of its members, Committees and the Houses. What has been done is included in the Rules of Procedure.
These deals mainly with two questions: Questions of Privilege, and arrest or detention of members. A question of privilege can be raised by any member provided it satisfies the conditions laid down for its admissibility. The matter is then referred to the Committee of Privileges if the House agrees to that and appropriate action is taken by the House on the basis of the recommendations of the Committee.
The Lok Sabha made history on August 29, 1961, by reprimanding a journalist at the Bar of the House for publishing words calculated to bring a Member of the House into odium, contempt and ridicule.
Administering the reprimand the Speaker said: “This offence of yours was further aggravated by the type of explanation you chose to submit to the Committee of Privileges. In the name of the House, I accordingly reprimand you for committing a gross breach of privilege and contempt of the House.”
The journalist concerned, the Editor of Blitz, a Bombay Weekly, had earlier moved the Supreme Court in a desperate bid to challenge the warrant issued against him summoning him before the Bar of the House on the ground that it was in violation of a fundamental right guaranteed to him by the Constitution.
The Supreme Court, however, rejected the petition and reaffirmed its decision in an earlier case 2 of a similar nature when it held that the right to freedom of speech was subject to the right or privilege of the legislature to prohibit the publication of even a true and faithful report of the proceedings that took place in the House.
According to the Court, the real remedy lies only with the legislature itself by passing a comprehensive law defining and codifying its privileges. Then the citizen will know how far these parliamentary privileges restrict his fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.
It is true that, under a system of Parliamentary government, the privileges of the legislature, its members and committees are an essential guarantee of its efficient working. The concept of parliamentary privileges, however, rests mainly on parliamentary privileges in England.
There, these have been evolved for the purpose of maintaining the independence and dignity of the House and its members. In the words of Erskine May, “the distinctive mark of a privilege is its ancillary character.
They are enjoyed by individual members because the House cannot perform its functions without unimpeded use of the service of its members, and by each House for the protection of its members, and the vindication of its own authority and dignity.”
By the very origin and nature of these privileges, they do not accrue by reason of any exalted position of the House or its members, but because they are absolutely necessary for the proper and effective discharge of the functions of a legislative body.
But the manners in which issues on privilege are raised again and again on the floor of the Houses of Parliament and the State Legislatures gives one the impression that the parliamentarians in India are too sensitive to criticism from outside. This is not a trend meriting encouragement from any quarter.
After all, Parliaments and their members and committees are neither infallible nor embodiments of all wisdom. Being the representatives of the people they must always be prepared to face public criticism and should never consider themselves to be above such criticism.
The Indian Parliament, it should be pointed out, is very different in at least one important respect from the British Parliament. While the latter has sovereign powers at least in theory, the Indian Parliament has only limited powers.
Parliamentary supremacy is inconsistent with the written Constitution of India which has imposed prohibitions on Parliament to pass certain kinds of legislation. Such a Parliament cannot pretend, under the cover of Article 105 (3), to have unlimited powers and privileges.
When a member is arrested or detained on a criminal charge or sentenced to imprisonment by a Court, the authority concerned should immediately inform the Speaker or the Chairman, as the case may be, indicating the reasons for the arrest, detention or imprisonment.
Similarly, when a member is released from detention, such fact also should be communicated to the Speaker. The Speaker will inform the House of the contents of such communications as early as possible. No member can be arrested within the premises of Parliament without the permission of the Speaker. Similarly, no legal process, civil or criminal, can be served on members within the precincts of the Houses without obtaining the Speaker’s or the Chairman’s permission.
Under Article 106, members are entitled to receive such salaries and allowances as may from time to time be determined by law made by Parliament.
At present a Member of Parliament gets a salary of Rs. 16,000 per month. In addition, he gets a daily allowance of Rs. 1000, a constituency allowance of Rs. 10,000 per month and allowance for office expenses Rs. 14,000 per month.
He is entitled for traveling allowance at the rate of Rs. 8 per km, free electricity to a maximum of 50,000 units and free water to a total quantity of 4000 kilo liters.
He is also entitled to make 120,000 free local telephone calls. There are several other additional benefits such as subsidised residence, free air tickets, railway tickets and several others.