Lok Sabha’s Ethics Committee: its history, constitution and members
Context- The Lok Sabha Ethics Committee, which will take up Nishikant Dubey’s complaint against Mahua Moitra, last met on July 27, 2021, according to information on the Parliament website. Since being established as an ad hoc entity more than two decades ago, the panel has heard several complaints, most of which have been for relatively light offenses.
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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’x Kaushambi MP Vinod Kumar Sonkar.
History of Ethics Committees
- 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 on March 4, 1997, and it was inaugurated that May to oversee the moral and ethical conduct of members and examine cases of misconduct referred to it. The Rules applicable to the Committee of Privileges also apply to the ethics panel.
- In the case of Lok Sabha, a study group of the House Committee of Privileges, after visiting Australia, the UK, and the US in 1997 to look into practices pertaining to the conduct and ethics of legislators, recommended 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.
2005 cash-for-query case
- In 2005, the two Houses adopted motions to expel 10 Lok Sabha MPs and one Rajya Sabha MP who were accused of agreeing to ask questions in Parliament for money. The motion in Lok Sabha was based on the report of a special committee set up by the Speaker under Chandigarh MP P K Bansal to examine the issue. In Rajya Sabha, the complaint was examined by the House Ethics Committee.
- The BJP, which lost six MPs, demanded that the Bansal Committee’s report be sent to the Privileges Committee, so that the parliamentarians could defend themselves.
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.
- The work of the Ethics Committee and the Privileges Committee often overlap. 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.
Conclusion- Parliamentary Committees are one of the most effective tools of Parliament to examine issues in depth and reduce parliamentary load . However challenges like absenteeism, blocking of reports, limited time period of 1 year etc. need to be addressed going forward.
Syllabus – GS-2 ; Parliamentary Committees
Source- Indian Express