2023 NOV 11
Polity > Parliament > Parliamentary Committees
Recently, the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee has initiated an investigation over ‘Cash for Query’ allegations against a Member of Parliament (MP) accused of accepting bribes to ask questions in Parliament.
ABOUT ETHICS COMMITTEE
- Each of the two Houses of Parliament has an ethics committee.
- The ethics committee in Lok Sabha has 15 members. The ethics committee in Rajya Sabha has 10 members.
History of Evolution of Ethics Committees
FUNCTIONS OF ETHICS COMMITTEE
- Lok Sabha Ethics Committee oversees the moral and ethical conduct of the members.
- Lok Sabha Ethics committee shall prepare a Code of Conduct for members, which would be amended from time to time.
- Lok Sabha Ethics Committee examines 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
Procedure for handling of complaints by the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee
The complaint against a Lok Sabha MP can be initiated by another Lok Sabha MP only.
However, any person can complain against any Lok Sabha MP. But this complaint can be submitted by only a 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 Lok Sabha MP himself complains, the affidavit is not needed.
The Speaker of the Lok Sabha can refer to the Committee any complaint of unethical behaviour against an MP.
The Committee does not entertain complaints based only on media reports or on matters that are sub-judice.
Prima Facie Inquiry and Report presentation
The Committee makes a Prima Facie inquiry before deciding to examine a complaint.
The committee 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.
What actions can be taken by the committee
- If the Ethics Committee finds merit in the complaint, it can make recommendations. The potential punishment it can recommend typically involves Suspension of the MP for a specified period.
- The House, which includes all MPs, ultimately decide whether to accept the committee’s recommendation and determine the nature and extent of the punishment, if any.
Difference between the Ethics Committee and Privileges Committee
- 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 Ethics Committee can take up only cases of misconduct that involve MPs. The privilege committee can interrogate a non-MP also for actions that attack the authority and dignity of the House.
SIGNIFICANCE OF ETHICS COMMITTEE
- Upholding Ethical Standards: By setting a clear code of conduct, it ensures that MPs adhere to principles of integrity and accountability in their official duties.
- Advice and Guidance: The committee provides essential advice and guidance that helps in clarifying doubts and guiding MPs in complex situations where ethical considerations are paramount.
- Investigation of Misconduct: The Ethics Committee plays a critical role in investigating allegations of unethical behavior or misconduct by MPs. This serves as a deterrent against unethical practices and helps in preserving the sanctity of parliamentary proceedings.
- Recommending Sanctions: In cases where unethical conduct is established, the committee has the authority to recommend appropriate sanctions. These can range from reprimands to more severe penalties like suspension or expulsion from Parliament, thus ensuring accountability.
- Promoting Transparency and Trust: By enforcing ethical standards, the committee contributes to enhancing transparency in parliamentary processes.
- Adapting to Evolving Ethical Norms: The committee also plays a role in revising and updating the code of conduct to reflect changing ethical norms and societal expectations.
CHALLENGES ASSOCIATED WITH ETHICS COMMITTEE
- Undefined 'Unethical Conduct': The term 'unethical conduct' has not been clearly defined, leaving it to the discretion of the committee to determine what constitutes ethical or unethical behaviour. This lack of a formal code of conduct can lead to inconsistency and subjectivity in decision-making.
- Rigid Ethical Standards: Ethical standards evolve over time, but a rigid interpretation by the Ethics Committee can limit MPs' ability to adapt to changing norms and societal expectations. This rigidity can result in outdated or impractical ethical guidelines.
- Misplacement of Graft Cases: Graft cases involving MPs, traditionally handled by the Privileges Committee or special committees, are sometimes referred to the Ethics Committee. This shift can lead to concerns about the appropriateness and impartiality of the investigations, as seen in the "cash for query" case.
- Lack of Enforcement Mechanisms: The committee often lacks effective mechanisms to enforce its recommendations for sanctions, which undermines its authority and the seriousness of its findings.
- Transparency and Public Accountability: The Ethics Committee's proceedings and decisions are often not transparent, leading to public scepticism about its fairness and impartiality.
- Potential for Political Bias: There is a risk of political bias in the committee's workings, as its members are politicians themselves. This can lead to decisions influenced by political affiliations rather than ethical considerations.
The committee is vital in interpreting and applying ethical standards, adapting to the evolving nature of ethics to uphold parliamentary integrity and MPs' conduct. It can employ techniques like seminars and workshops to enhance MPs' grasp of moral principles and foster ethical behaviour.