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House rights debate

Ranchi, Aug. 16: In what is widely seen as a retaliatory move, the Assembly is all set to hold a debate on Jharkhand High Court’s jurisdiction vis-à-vis the legislature.

The immediate provocation is the constitution of a full bench by the high court to decide the legality of a special Assembly committee, constituted to probe into the affairs of autonomous bodies like the Birsa Agriculture University (BAU). The high court had earlier commented adversely on another Assembly committee constituted to look into Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences ( RIMS).

The on-going war of attrition shows no sign of abatement with the court issuing notices to the Speaker and the secretary of the Assembly to show cause. The Assembly secretariat has, however, refused to accept the notices. Now the Assembly is all set to debate the issue.

Legislators are vociferous in upholding their right to inquire into any body receiving government-grants, pointing out that the government is accountable to the Assembly, which approves the expenditure made by it. The critics argue that while Assembly committees can inquire into specific areas and submit their reports to the House, it is a grey area whether such committees can interfere in the administration.

Speaker Inder Singh Namdhari said he had received representations from “at least” 13 legislators, seeking a debate on the judiciary’s “frequent bids” to encroach upon the jurisdiction of the legislature. “I will place the letters before the business advisory committee for a decision,” he said.

The Speaker’s attention was drawn to Article 212 of the Constitution, which appears to place a conditional restriction on the high court, which is debarred from questioning the validity of any proceeding in the House “only on the ground of any alleged irregularity of procedure”. The provision appears to suggest that the high court may look into the validity of proceedings on grounds other than procedural flaws.

The tug-of-war between the legislature and the judiciary is also over the interpretation of “House proceedings”. The grey area here is whether Assembly committees, which visit institutions outside the Assembly and seek to give directions, can be strictly held to be “House proceedings”.

But the Speaker cited conventions and spoke of the several occasions when the Bihar Assembly had formed several committees to look into bungling with government funds. The legislators seeking a debate, he pointed out, cut across party lines.

“A court examines the constitutionality of a law. But if the high court can question the proceedings of the House, why can’t we debate the court’s jurisdiction'” he asked.

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