Indefinite suspension of MP has very serious repercussions for rights of people: SC on Raghav Chadha’s plea

Indefinite suspension of an MP could have very serious repercussions for people’s right to be represented by a person of their choice, the Supreme Court said on Monday, and asked whether the Privileges Committee of Parliament could order AAP lawmaker Raghav Chadha’s suspension from the Rajya Sabha for an unspecified duration.

The top court said the exclusion of a member of the opposition from the House just because of a perspective which may not be consistent with the viewpoint of the government is a serious issue.

A bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said the only charge against Chadha was that he did not seek permission of some MPs before deciding to include them in a proposed select committee, and sought to know from Attorney General R Venkataramani if it could be considered an infraction warranting indefinite suspension.

Chadha is under suspension since August 11 after some MPs, a majority from the ruling BJP, accused him of adding their names to a motion without their consent. The motion sought constitution of a select committee to examine the contentious Delhi Services Bill.

“Indefinite suspension of a member of Parliament has a very serious repercussion on the right of the people to be represented by a person of their choice…He (Chadha) is a member of the opposition. The exclusion of member from the opposition of the House is a very serious matter because he is representative of his constituency and of the viewpoint which may not be consistent with the viewpoint of the government. We must be very careful about not excluding those voices from the Parliament.

“As a constitutional court, this is a serious cause of concern. Parliament must have voices from across the spectrum. The indefinite suspension is a cause of concern,” the bench, also comprising Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said, adding 75 days have since gone by and Chadha would be out even for the Winter session.

Venkataramani, who is assisting the court in the matter, submitted it is very important to obtain the consent of the members proposed to be included in a parliamentary panel as it adds to the dignity of the proceedings of the House.

The AG said Chadha’s comments to the media that his proposal on inclusion of names of MPs for the proposed select committee were like a “birthday invitation card” also lowered the dignity of the House.

“That we have lost our sense of humour is a separate part altogether. Mr AG, does this really reduce the dignity of the House?

“A member who should have verified the consent for inclusion of members in his committee….he doesn’t. When asked by the press, he says this is like a birthday invitation card. What he obviously meant was that I have requested the members to be part of the committee…if you want to come, you come. The question is does this cause a breach of privilege,” the bench remarked orally.

It said it will ask Chadha if he was ready to apologise for his actions and whether the Rajya Sabha chairperson was willing to accept his apology.

“We are ready to put to him that if he is willing to apologise to the House, will the chairman accept the apology and obviate the need for the Supreme Court to set the law straight. We will set the law straight,” the bench said.

Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for Chadha, said there have been at least 11 such incidents in the Rajya Sabha in the past when members have objected to their inclusion in select committees proposed by other members.

He said whenever a member declined consent they were dropped from the list and no punitive action was ever taken against the MP who proposed the name.

Dwivedi said Chadha respects Parliament and that he had apologised earlier too and was ready to do so again.

The top court adjourned the hearing till Friday and directed the parties to file a compilation of their submissions by Thursday.

“We may not go into the broader question of privileges. Let’s not expand it more than necessary. We’re not going in the jurisdiction of privileges committee… the only question is of indefinite suspension,” the bench said.

The top court had earlier taken note of Dwivedi’s submissions that the case raised an important “national issue” and noted as many as seven issues for adjudication.

“Whether by an admixture of a resolution of the House and an order of the Chairperson under Rules 256 and 266, there is any jurisdiction to suspend a Member of Parliament pending an enquiry,” read one of the issues.

“Whether such an order could be passed after the matter was referred to the Committee on Privileges based on the same grounds for examination, investigation and report,” read the other.

Another issue the bench noted was whether Rule 256 and Rule 266 (discretionary powers of RS chairman) empower the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha to pass an order of suspension pending an inquiry.

It was alleged that the Rajya Sabha MP from Punjab had moved a motion to refer the Delhi Services Bill to the select committee.

He had allegedly named some lawmakers as members of the proposed committee and it was claimed that some of the MPs had not given their consent for it.

Taking note of the complaint, the chairman suspended Chadha, pending an inquiry by the Committee of Privileges.

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In his plea, the AAP leader has said the power to suspend indefinitely is dangerously open to excesses and abuse.

“The power to suspend is meant only to be used as a shield and not as a sword, that is, it cannot be penal,” the plea has said, adding “the suspension is in clear breach of Rule 256 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Council of States, which incorporates a categorical prohibition against the suspension of any member for a period exceeding the remainder of the session.”

The Rajya Sabha had passed a motion moved by the Leader of the House Piyush Goyal on August 11 seeking action against the AAP leader for including the names of some members without their consent in a proposed select committee for considering the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2023.

Chadha was suspended on the last day of the Monsoon session for “gross violation of rules, misconduct, defiant attitude and contemptuous conduct”, pending a report by the Privileges Committee.

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