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WATCHING OVER

It would be insufficient to say that the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the parliament’s expulsion of 11 of its members involved in the cash-for-questions scandal has defused a flashpoint in India’s democratic history. It may have, immediately, deprived certain interested sections in the legislature of a veritable proof of the judiciary’s alleged “over-activism”. The implications of the judgment, however, reach far beyond the immediate. It provides India’s democratic mechanism a crucial lever that has been missing for a while. And it does so by ascribing limits to which the legislature can exercise its privileges. With regard to the matter at hand, the apex court has acknowledged the right of the legislature to discipline a member of the house for misconduct after a proper inquiry had established his guilt (as in the present case). However, it has reiterated that parliamentary proceedings are not immune to a judicial review where there are allegations of violation of constitutional provisions or the fundamental rights of an individual. In other words, even the legislature is not above the law. Thus, no matter how much the parliament congratulates itself on sticking to its ground on the expulsion order, it cannot draw satisfaction from its being able to shut out the judiciary completely.

The legislature’s own reluctance to define its powers and privileges is partly responsible for the ambiguity regarding its procedural immunity. The Constitution, under Articles 105 and 194, had clearly wished for the terms to be clearly laid down by the legislature itself. But legislators’ reservations about a strict codification of what they often interpret as their own ‘privileges’ have hampered such a drive. There have been attempts, ever since the expulsion of H.G. Mudgal in 1951, to form committees for self-regulation in matters of conduct and ethics. But in the absence of a combined will, the effort has often been found to be flagging. The expulsion order of the tainted members of parliament, upheld by the highest court of the land, sets a precedent. With the procedure now established, there can be greater censure against corruption and graft within the house itself. But given the fact that the house is never bereft of political colour, enough caution also needs to be practised. For probity to be re-established in public life, perhaps the judiciary and the legislature need to serve as watchdogs together.

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