Striking Balance

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 25 Jun 2018 12:29:08


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Constitution does not envisage supremacy of any of the three organs of the State. But, functioning of all the three organs is controlled by the Constitution. Wherever interactions and deliberations among the three organs have been envisaged, a delicate balance and mutual respect are contemplated. All the three organs have to strive to achieve the constitutional goal set out for ‘We the People’.

A FIVE-judge bench of the Supreme Court, consisting of Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra and Justices A. K. Sikri, A. M. Khanwilkar, Dr. D. Y. Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan have, while answering Reference by a two-judge bench in the case -Kalpana Mehta and Others vs Union of India and Others, ruled on May 9, 2018, that in a litigation filed before it, either under Article 32 or Article 136 of the Constitution of India, the court can refer to and place reliance upon the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee.


On August 12, 2014, a two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court formulated the questions to be addressed in the course of proceedings. It has been noted in the referring order that when a mandamus is sought, the court has to address the facts which are the foundation of the case and the opposition, in response. If a court were to be called upon to peruse the report of a Parliamentary Standing Committee, a contestant to the litigation may well seek to challenge it.

Such a challenge, according to the court, in the form of “an invitation to contest” the report of the Parliamentary Committee “is likely to disturb the delicate balance that the Constitution provides between the constitutional institutions”. Such a contest and adjudication would (in that view) be contrary to the privileges of Parliament which the Constitution protects.


Substantial question involving the interpretation of the Constitution having arisen, two questions were referred to the Constitution Bench under Article 145 (3):
“(i) Whether in a litigation filed before this court either under Article 32 or Article 136 of the Constitution of India , the court can refer to and place reliance upon the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee; and “(ii) Whether such a report can be looked at for the purpose of reference and, if so, can there be restrictions for the purpose of reference regard being had to the concept of parliamentary privilege and delicate balance between the constitutional institutions that Articles 105, 121 and 122 of the Constitution conceive?”


The conclusions reached by the court are:
According to sub-clause (2) of Article 105 of the Constitution of India, no Member of Parliament can be held liable for anything said by him in Parliament or in any committee. The reports submitted by Members of Parliament are also fully covered by protection extended under sub-clause (2) of Article 105 of the Constitution of India. The publication of the reports not being only permitted, but also are being encouraged by the Parliament. The general public are keenly interested in knowing about the parliamentary proceedings including parliamentary reports which are steps towards the governance of the country. The right to know about the reports only arises when they have been published for use of the public in general.


Section 57(4) of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 makes it clear that the course of proceedings of Parliament and the Legislature, established under any law are facts of which judicial notice shall be taken by the court. Parliament has already adopted a report of “Privilege Committee”, that for those documents which are public documents within the meaning of Indian Evidence Act, there is no requirement of any permission of Lok Sabha Speaker for producing such documents as evidence in court.


The mere fact that the document is admissible in evidence whether a public or private document does not lead to draw any presumption that the contents of the documents are also true and correct. When a party relies on any fact stated in the Parliamentary Committee Report as the matter of noticing an event or history no exception can be taken on such reliance of the report. However, no party can be allowed to ‘question’ or ‘impeach’ report of Parliamentary Committee.

The Parliamentary privilege, that it shall not be impeached or questioned outside the Parliament shall equally apply both to a party who files claim in the court and other who objects to it. Any observation in the report or inference of the Committee cannot be held to be binding between the parties. The parties are at liberty to lead evidence independently to prove their stand in a court of law.


Both the parties have not disputed that Parliamentary Reports can be used for the purposes of legislative history of a Statute as well as for considering the statement made by a Minister. When there is no breach of privilege in considering the Parliamentary materials and reports of the Committee by the court for these two purposes, the court failed to see any valid reason for not accepting the submission of the petitioner that the courts are not debarred from accepting the Parliamentary materials and reports, on record, before it, provided the court does not proceed to permit the parties to question and impeach the reports.


The Constitution does not envisage supremacy of any of the three organs of the State. But, functioning of all the three organs is controlled by the Constitution. Wherever interactions and deliberations among the three organs have been envisaged, a delicate balance and mutual respect are contemplated. All the three organs have to strive to achieve the constitutional goal set out for ‘We the People’. Mutual harmony and respect have to be maintained by all the three organs to serve the Constitution under which we all live.


The court is of the view that fair comments on report of the Parliamentary Committee are fully protected under the rights guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a). However, the comments when turn into personal attack on the individual member of Parliament or House or made in vulgar or abusive language tarnishing the image of member or House, the said comments amount to contempt of the House and breach of privilege.


The function of adjudicating rights of the parties has been entrusted to the constituted courts as per Constitutional Scheme, which says adjudication has to be made after observing the procedural safeguards which include right to be heard and right to produce evidence. Parliament, however, is not vested with any adjudicatory jurisdiction which belong to judicature under the Constitutional Scheme.


Admissibility of a Parliamentary Committee Report in evidence does not mean that facts stated in the Report stand proved. When issues of facts come before a court of law for adjudication, the court is to decide the issues on the basis of evidence and materials brought before it. After answering the questions, the Supreme Court directed that the connected writ petitions be placed before the appropriate Bench for hearing.