Law Confers Immunity, Not Men; Apex Court provides that officers enjoy immunity only to the extent expressly provided by the Act
A bench comprising Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh held in a judgment on Tuesday that all public servants except the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker of the Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha for the purposes applicability of the Lokayukta Act, the Prevention of Corruption Act and the jurisdiction of Madhya Pradesh Special Establishment, fall in the same category and cannot claim any privilege more than an ordinary citizen to whom the provisions of the said Acts apply. Under the provisions of Section 2(g) (ii) of the Lokayukta Act, the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the Leader of Opposition are exempted from the jurisdiction of the Lokayukta.
This verdict may elude one to the hurried conclusion that the Speaker and the Deputy speaker enjoy absolute immunity. Instead, what the court provided for in the Tuesdays verdict was that speaker and the deputy speaker enjoy immunity viz a viz the applicability of the Prevention of Corruption Act and the jurisdiction of Lokayukta or the Madhya Pradesh Special Establishment Act. They enjoy this immunity because of the orchestrating act namely the Lokayukta Act which expressly provides for the same. However this immunity is not automatically extended to other officials of the Speaker’s secretariat.
An Enquiry was initiated against the officials of the Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha as well as against the officials concerned of the Capital Project Administration, the contractor company alleging irregularity in construction work carried out on the premises of Vidhan Sabha. For this, breach of privilege notice was issued and this was challenged in a writ petition in the apex court. The privilege notice issued for initiating the enquiry was quashed by the apex court.
The court heard the matter and agreed with the fact that writ petition was maintainable because if the court did not exercise its extraordinary jurisdiction, the grieving party would face severe charges if the privileged motion was extended against them.
The court identified the scope of the privileges enjoyed by the members of the house and clarified that the privileges are available only insofar as they are necessary in order that the House may freely perform its functions but do not extend to the activities undertaken outside the House on which the legislative provisions would apply without any differentiations.
The court recapitulated that the Central Province enacted the Central Provinces and Berar Special Police Establishment Act, 1947 (hereinafter referred to as 'the SPE Act') and a Special Police Force was constituted with the power to investigate the offences notified by the State Government under Section 3 of the said Act. On 16.09.1981, Legislative Assembly of the State of Madhya Pradesh enacted the Lokayukta Act to appointment of authorities to enquire into the allegations against public servants as defined in the act. The allegations could range from activities like being involved in corruption or of pecuniary possession or discharging activities with corrupt motives.
The court held that the officers working under the office of the Speaker are also public servants within the meaning of Section 2(g) of the Lokayukta Act and within the meaning of Section 2 (c) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and, therefore, the Lokayukta and his officers are entitled and duty bound to make inquiry and investigation into the allegations made in any complaint filed before them.
The law applies equally and there is no privilege which prohibits action of registration of a case by an authority that has been empowered by the legislature to investigate the cases relating to corruption and bring the offenders to book. Simply because the officers happen to belong to the office of the Hon'ble Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, the provisions of the Lokayukta Act do not cease to apply to them. The law does not make any differentiation and applies to all with equal vigor. As such, the initiation of action does not and cannot amount to a breach of privilege of the Legislative Assembly, which has itself conferred powers in the form of a statute to eradicate the menace of corruption. It is, thus, clear that, no privilege is available to the Legislative Assembly to give immunity to them against the operation of laws.
The court also provided that it is amply clear that the Assembly does not enjoy any privilege of a nature that may have the effect of restraining any inquiry or investigation against the Secretary or the Deputy Secretary of the Legislative Assembly. The court held that any privileges alleged to be enjoyed by the members of the assembly cannot be used as a defense to interfere with the criminal proceedings initiated against them. Power of inquiry rests on an independent platform.
The court’s verdict comes in time to specify a very important threefold argument that is deeper than the sensational proclamation of absolute immunity to the speaker and deputy speaker. The court herein clarified that immunity enjoyed by the members of the assembly is not absolute and it is restricted to the free flow of their activities within the house. The immunity or the privileges therein can only be carved out by an express statute and just because Speaker enjoys immunity by the virtue of that statute, does not mean that the Speakers secretariat i.e. his officials would also enjoy that immunity. This immunity or privilege could not be used by them to stall an independent enquiry.