Lok Sabha expels Mahua Moitra
Dec. 9, 2023

Why in news?

  • The Lok Sabha expelled Trinamool Congress member Mahua Moitra over the "cash-for-query" allegation through a voice vote amid chaos.
  • Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister had moved the motion to expel Ms. Moitra as per the recommendation of Ethics Committee report.
    • The report found her guilty of sharing her credentials with others, accepted gifts for favours from a businessman.

What’s in Today’s Article?

  • About the Ethics Committee
  • Ethics Committee vs Privileges Committee
  • News Summary

About the Ethics Committee:

  • Objective:
    • It oversees the moral and ethical conduct of members and examines cases of misconduct referred to it.
  • History:
    • A Presiding Officers’ Conference, held in Delhi, in 1996 first mooted the idea of ethics panels for the two Houses.
    • Then Vice President (and Rajya Sabha Chairman) K R Narayanan constituted the Ethics Committee of the Upper House in 1997.
    • In the case of Lok Sabha, a study group of the House Committee of Privileges recommended (in 1997) the constitution of an Ethics Committee, but it could not be taken up by Lok Sabha.
      • The Committee of Privileges finally recommended the constitution of an Ethics Committee during the 13th Lok Sabha.
      • The late Speaker, G M C Balayogi, constituted an ad hoc Ethics Committee in 2000, which became a permanent part of the House only in 2015.
  • Appointment of members in Lok Sabha Ethics Committee:
    • The committee should not contain more than 15 members.
    • The members of the Ethics Committee are appointed by the Speaker for a period of one year.
    • The Committee is currently headed by the BJP MP Vinod Kumar Sonkar.
  • Function
    • The committee can examine every complaint relating to unethical conduct of a member of Lok Sabha referred to it by the Speaker and make such recommendations as it may deem fit.
    • The committee can formulate a Code of Conduct for members and suggest amendments or additions to the Code of Conduct from time to time.
  • Procedure for complaints
    • Any person can complain against a Member through another Lok Sabha MP, along with evidence of the alleged misconduct, and an affidavit stating that the complaint is not “false, frivolous, or vexatious”.
    • If the Member himself complains, the affidavit is not needed.
    • The Speaker can refer to the Committee any complaint against an MP.
    • The Committee does not entertain complaints based only on media reports or on matters that are sub-judice.
    • The Committee makes a prima facie inquiry before deciding to examine a complaint. It makes its recommendations after evaluating the complaint.
    • The Committee presents its report to the Speaker, who asks the House if the report should be taken up for consideration. There is also a provision for a half-hour discussion on the report.
  • Action taken on the recommendations by the Ethics Committee
    • After the report has been presented, any member of the LS may move that the report be taken into consideration whereupon the Speaker may put the question to the House.
    • Before putting the question to the House, the Speaker may permit a debate on the motion, not exceeding half an hour in duration
    • The House may or may not agree with the recommendations contained in the report.

Ethics Committee vs Privileges Committee:

  • The work of the Ethics Committee and the Privileges Committee often overlap.
    • The Rules (for example, the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha) applicable to the Committee of Privileges also apply to the ethics panel.
  • An allegation of corruption against an MP can be sent to either body, but usually more serious accusations go to the Privileges Committee.
    • The mandate of the Privileges Committee is to safeguard the “freedom, authority, and dignity of Parliament”.
    • These privileges are enjoyed by individual Members as well as the House as a whole.
    • An MP can be examined for breach of privilege; a non-MP too can be accused of breach of privilege for actions that attack the authority and dignity of the House.
  • The Ethics Committee can take up only cases of misconduct that involve MPs.

News Summary: Lok Sabha expels Mahua Moitra

  • Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mahua Moitra was expelled as a Lok Sabha MP after she was found guilty by the ethics panel in the 'cash-for-query' case.

Background of the case                                  

  • In October 2023, a BJP MP alleged that Ms. Moitra was asking questions in the Parliament in exchange for cash and gifts from businessman Darshan Hiranandani.
  • In an affidavit to the Ethics Committee on October 19, Hiranandani claimed that Moitra provided him with her Parliament login ID and password so that he could post questions directly on her behalf when required.

Power of LS to expel its members

  • Complexity involved
    • There is absence of explicit rules barring MPs from sharing their Parliament login credentials, as the practice of online question submission is relatively recent.
    • However, the absence of specific rules does not diminish the gravity of potential breaches of parliamentary conduct.
  • Supreme Court’s stand on the issue
    • The Supreme Court has offered divergent views on similar cases in the past, reflecting the complexity of parliamentary expulsions.
    • The Raja Ram Pal case of 2007 highlighted that Parliament possesses the power to expel its members, subject to justiciability.
      • However, the interpretation of Article 101, which deals with the vacation of seats in Parliament, led to disagreements among the judges.
      • Minority judgement raised concerns over the exhaustive nature of Article 101 and its silence on expulsion as a ground for vacancy.
    • In a subsequent case, Amarinder Singh vs Special Committee, Punjab Vidhan Sabha, the Supreme Court deemed the expulsion of former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh unconstitutional.
      • The verdict underscored the potential misuse of legislative privileges to target political opponents or dissenters, especially concerning their legislative acts from previous terms.
      • The Supreme Court's stance in this case raises concerns over vague grounds for expulsion, such as conduct unbecoming of a member or lowering the dignity of the House.
      • Such broad criteria could potentially pave the way for selective application of legislative privileges against political adversaries.