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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

SC stays Lok Sabha Privileges committee proceedings against West Bengal CS, others

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the proceedings of the Lok Sabha Privileges committee against the Chief Secretary, Director General of Police, and three other officials of the State of West Bengal who contended that ‘Parliamentary Privileges will not extend to political activities and that this act was beyond their jurisdiction.’

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud took up the case on an urgent basis and as an interim measure stayed the Privileges Committee’s proceedings against Bhagwati Prasad Gopalika IAS (Chief Secretary of WB), Sharad Kumar Dwivedi IAS (District Magistrate, North 24 Parganas District), Rajeev Kumar IPS (WB DGP), Dr. Hossain Mehedi Rehman IPS (Superintendent of Police, Basirhat, North 24 Parganas District) and Partha Ghosh (Additional SP, Basirhat, North 24 Parganas District).

The matter pertains to a complaint filed by BJP MP Sukanta Majumdar over alleged mistreatment against him during the protests at Sandeshkhali region on February 13 and 14.

Dr.Majumdar sent his complaint to the Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla on February 15, and in a swift move proceedings were initiated by the Lok Sabha Privileges Committee against the officials, and summonses were issued for their appearance before the committee for today (February 19).

Senior Advocates Kapil Sibal and Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, approached the Supreme Court to stay the proceedings of the Privileges committee against the officials. Kapil Sibal stated that the officials have been asked to appear before the Lok Sabha Privileges Committee at 10.30 AM today.

The bench took it up the matter as the first item at 10.30 AM after the petitioners sought an urgent hearing. The senior lawyers said that Dr.Majumdar and BJP supporters gathered at the region where a curfew under Section 144 CrPC was imposed in the Sandeshkhali region, and they violated the curfew.

The senior lawyer submitted that the complaint of Dr. Majumdar of police atrocities is false as videos showing that the party workers attacked the police officials.

The legal point raised by the petitioners is that the Parliamentary Privileges will not extend to political activities and the Lok Sabha Secretariat has acted beyond its jurisdiction by issuing notices to the officials. They submitted that the officials like the Chief Secretary, DGP and the District Magistrate were not even present at the venue.

“Privileges are available to a member only when he is obstructed while discharging his duties as a Member of Parliament while he is attending the house. Privilege is not available when he is not performing any Parliamentary duties. It is not available for a political activity,’ Sibal said.

“You go there (Sandeshkhali), violate a 144 order, and then you complain that it is a breach of privilege!” Sibal submitted. “Privileges are meant to protect your work as a Parliamentarian. Otherwise, there will be a breach of privileges in every case, nobody can be arrested.” Singhvi added.

CJI asked, “Breach of privileges is because they allege that the Member of Parliament got injured?”. To this Singhvi replied, “Video shows that he jumps on the bonnet of a police car. His colleagues in the BJP pull him. He is taken to the hospital by the police.”

Singhvi referred to the Supreme Court’s 2020 order staying the summons issued by the Lok Sabha Secretariat to a Jharkhand SP on a breach of privileges complaint.

The bench, while issuing notice returnable within 4 weeks on the writ petition, stayed the further proceedings of the notice issued by the Lok Sabha Secretariat against the State Officials.

“There shall be a stay of further proceedings in pursuance of the Office Memoranda dated 15 February 2024 “, the Court stated in the order.

The Supreme Court’s judgment in the Raja Rampal case was also cited. “In any case, privileges can’t apply to political activities,” submitted Sibal.

Senior Advocate Devasish Bharukha, appearing for the Lok Sabha Secretariat, informed the bench that the officials have not been summoned as “accused” and that the notice was meant only to ascertain facts and get evidence. The Speaker referred the complaint of Dr.Majumdar to the Privileges Committee as per the rules, the counsel informed.

“Once the Privileges Committee gets a notice, it calls people who might be relevant for oral evidence. That is the first stage. This is the first sitting. This is a threshold stage,” Bharukha submitted.

Singhvi said that Parliamentary Privileges will not extend to political activities and that this act was an issue of inherent lack of jurisdiction. The Lok Sabha Secretariat has acted beyond its jurisdiction by issuing notices to the officials.

The petition was filed in the Lok Sabha alleging that there was a lathicharge against Dr.Majumdar and that the police vehicle was deliberately started when he was on its bonnet, which resulted in his fall.

He further alleged that the police deliberately delayed giving proper medical treatment to him.

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