House officers do not have lawmakers’ privileges: Supreme Court

August 11th, 2008 - 10:11 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 11 (IANS) The Supreme Court Monday observed that various privileges available to the lawmakers cannot be extended to officers of a legislative body. A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice J.M. Panchal said that while actions of the presiding officer or the members of a legislative assembly cannot be challenged before a court of law or sought to be probed by an investigation agency, the same immunity is not available to the officials working in the legislature.

“All the actions attributed to the speaker enjoy immunity. But how can other employees enjoy immunity?” the bench asked while hearing a plea by the Madhya Pradesh Lokayukta (ombudsman). The Lokayukta has challenged a notice issued to him by the state assembly speaker for questioning an alleged corrupt deed of the assembly secretary.

The bench posed the query to senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi, who appearing for the state assembly speaker contended that the Lokayukta’s plea against the assembly speaker was not maintainable and deserved to be dismissed.

Rohatgi contended that as the speaker is in charge of the house, a notice by the Lokayukta to the officials working under him amounted to breach of privilege.

But the bench rejected the argument saying: “The secretary has no privilege. It is only the legislators who enjoy the immunity.”

It also said that apparently some of the legislators wanted to protect, “rightly or wrongly”, the officials served with notice by the ombudsman.

The apex court had in November stayed a notice issued to the Lokayukta, Justice (retd) Ripusudan Dayal, by the Madhya Pradesh assembly speaker.

The speaker had issued the notice of breach of privilege against the Lokayukta and others in his office after the ombudsman initiated a probe against assembly secretary and other officials for irregularities involving public funds amounting to Rs.20 million for construction of a road leading to the assembly building.

Senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing on behalf of the Lokayukta, argued that the speaker’s action “was a brazen attempt to protect some officials and his action was a serious issue”.

He argued that the speaker had acted without jurisdiction and had “no such sweeping power” to act in the name of breach of privilege.

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