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Communist Party of India (CPI) member of Parliament Binoy Viswam, on July 22, moved a breach of Privilege Motion against Minister of State (MoS) Health Dr Bharati Pawar in Rajya Sabha. The MP has accused the minister of misleading the house on oxygen related deaths during COVID-19.
Congress MP KC Venugopal also moved a Privilege Motion against the reply by Pawar that no one has died because of non-availability of oxygen.
“The complete lack of accountability and the attempts to mislead this house as well as the people of the country require the most serious of action. In light of this I urge you to take notice of this breach of privilege and ensure proceedings in this regard,” Viswam said in his notice.
In response to a question on whether a large number of COVID-19 patients died on roads and hospitals due to acute shortage of oxygen in the second wave, Pawar told the Parliament on July 20 that there were no deaths due to lack of oxygen specifically reported by states, UTs during second COVID-19 wave
Moneycontrol explains what the privilege motion is and what its consequences are.
What is a Privilege Motion and who can move it?
All Members of Parliament (MPs) enjoy rights and immunities, individually and collectively, so that they can discharge their duties and functions effectively. Any instance when these rights and immunities are disregarded by any member of Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha is an offence, called ‘breach of privilege’, which is punishable under the Laws of Parliament.
READ: No deaths due to lack of oxygen specifically reported by states, UTs during second COVID wave: Centre
Any member from either house can move a notice in the form of a motion against the member who he/she thinks is guilty of the breach of privilege. Both Houses of the Parliament reserve the right to punish any action of contempt (not necessarily breach of privilege) which is against its authority and dignity, as per the laws.
What are the rules governing Privilege Motion?
The rules governing the privilege are mentioned in the Rule No 222 in Chapter 20 of the Lok Sabha Rule Book and Rule 187 in Chapter 16 of the Rajya Sabha rulebook. The rules explain that any member of the House may, with the consent of the Speaker or the Chairperson, raise a question involving an incident that he or she considers a breach of privilege either of a member or of the House or of a committee. The notice, however, has to be about a recent incident and should need the intervention of the House. These notices have to be submitted before 10 am to the Speaker or the Chairperson of the House.
What is the role of the Lok Sabha Speaker and Rajya Sabha Chairperson?
The speaker of Lok Sabha and the Chairperson of Rajya Sabha are the first level of scrutiny of a privilege motion in the two Houses of Parliament. They can either take a decision on the privilege motion or can also refer it to the privileges committee of Parliament. Once the Speaker or the House Chairperson gives consent under Rule 222, the concerned member is allowed to explain himself or herself.
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What is the Privileges Committee?
The Speaker of Lok Sabha nominates a committee of privileges consisting of 15 members of parliament from each party. The report prepared by the committee is submitted to the House for its consideration. The Speaker may also allow a half-hour debate on the report by the committee before passing orders or directing that the report be tabled before the House. A resolution is passed. BJP MP Sunil Kumar Singh is the chairperson of the privilege committee of Lok Sabha. In the Rajya Sabha, the deputy chairperson heads the committee of privileges, which consists of 10 members.
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Have Privilege Motions been passed in Parliament in the past?
Most of the privilege motions passed in the Parliament in the past have been rejected. Penal actions have been recommended only in a few, so far.
Among the most significant privilege motions passed so far was in 1978 against Indira Gandhi. The then Home Minister Charan Singh had moved a resolution of breach of privilege against her on the basis of observations made by Justice Shah Commission, which investigated the excesses during the Emergency. Indira Gandhi, who had just won the Lok Sabha elections from Chikmagalur, was expelled from the House.
In 1976, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy was expelled from Rajya Sabha for bringing disgrace to Parliament through his interviews to foreign publications.
In 1961, editor of ‘Blitz’ RK Karanjia was indicted with gross breach of privilege after the publication put out an article that publicly castigated Congress veteran JB Kripalani. Karanjia was reprimanded in Lok Sabha and the gallery pass of his correspondent was annulled.
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In the Winter Session of 2017, BJP MP Bhupendra Yadav, now Union Minister of Labour and Environment, had moved a privilege motion against Rahul Gandhi in Rajya Sabha during Zero Hour. Yadav had accused Rahul of “intentionally, maliciously and disrespectfully” twisting the name of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in a tweet. Rahul had referred to Jaitley as “Jaitlie”. However, Rajya Sabha Chairperson Venkaiah Naidu had cautioned Yadav against moving the motion as Rahul was not present in the House to defend himself.