Dr Shyamaprasad Mukherjee during a discussion in Parliament once remarked,
‘ After all, we are sitting here not in our individual capacity, but we claim to represent the people of this great land. Our sanction is not the British Parliament; our sanction is the people of India and therefore we have to make the ultimate appeal to the people of our country.
This statement reflects the commitment a Parliamentarian must have for the people. People in today’s Parliamentary politics refers to not only the people residing within the constituency borders, but to the people of this land. It is due to this that every legislator who occupies the office takes oath upon the constitution of India. Recently a Member of Parliament was called upon by the Parliamentary ethics panel for questioning. There were lot of allegations against the Member on how the Parliamentary privileges were breached and how ‘cash for question’ was used which was totally against the rules of procedure of our Parliament. In this context we have to understand and study about the need for ethics amongst legislators.
The Earnest Need for Ethics in Legislative Politics
Ethics is embedded in the ancient credos of Bharat. Our ‘Smritis’ can be considered as the first treatise on the ethics in life. It explains the perfect code of conduct for any individual who is part of larger society. Our culture is built upon the foundation of ethics. The ‘Smritis’ talks about religion, rituals, righteosness, society, practises, customs, and traditions. From vedas to vedantas, our scriptures provides immense knowledge on what has to remain the right way of life. These books dealt with practical side of ethics to attain moksha or salvation. Our definition was broad and more inclusive than the Western narrow version which defined ethics just as a moral code.
Our Sabhas and Samitis dealt with ethics question very seriously. Sabhas and Samithis had the power to even oust a king from power, and the ruling kings were accountable for their actions. Except during the brief span of invasion and occupation, our land always put ‘Dharma’ before material and physical pleasures.
Sadly, today we are losing this Dharmic tradition and values. Legislations can affect everyone’s life, both individually and collectively. It is very important for any country to have legislators who can uphold our dharmic identity. When this identity is compromised it puts the entire nation into a disaster and chaos. Hence the ethics and the moral code of conduct of a legislator today is as important as the accountability to the people, and forms the basic tenet of Parlimentary democracy.
Deciphering the Basic Tenets of Ethics Committees in other Parliaments
Parliament of United States gives high parlance to the ethical conduct of its indivdual members. For both Senate and House of Representatives, there are separate bodies to check the ethical code of conduct of Members. Whereas for the senate it is called ‘Select Commitee on Ethics’, for the US House of Representatives it is called ‘Commitee on Standards and Official Conduct’. These two bodies individucally hold the Memebers accountable for their actions.
Meanwhile, in May 1995, the Nolan Committee presented its report to the British Parliament. It clearly said that there has to be a ban on Parliamentary consultancies with public relations or lobbying firms which acted for multiple firms, and recommended seven principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability , openness, honesty and leadership, which shall be embeded into Parliamentary code of conduct.
Following Nolan’s report, the UK Parliament set up its own standard committee on standards in public life. There was a Parliamentary Commissioner for standards which was established for this purpose and who shall look into various complaints received in this regard.
Likewise, the Bowen Committee was set up by Parliament of Australia to look into setting up of a code of conduct for Parliamentarians and other public servants in 1978. In 1995, draft framework for ethical principles for senators and legislators was published. Thus, Parliaments across the world gives utmost important to ethical code of conduct by the elected representatives.
Ethics in Our Parliamentary History
The Shantaram Committee in 1962: TheSanthanam Committee had observed that the integrity of Ministers, Members of Parliament and of the State Legislatures was an important factor in creating a social climate against corruption, and recommended the setting up of a Committee of Representatives of Parliament and State Legislatures to formulate a code of conduct for legislators.
On July 9th 1993, Government of India appointed a committee under N N Vohra to look into nexus between crime syndicates and public functionaries including politicians. During those times large number of crime syndicates were operating through Members of Parliament for their commercial interests. Subsequent to submission of report by the committee in 1995, the Parliament had constituted a committee of ethics which would act as the body responsible for the ethical conduct of Members of Parliament.
In 1997, Ethics Committee was formed in Rajya sabha to look into ethical misconduct of the Members of Parliament. On May 16th, 2000, Lok Sabha formed its own Ethics Committee. The primary role of these committees were to oversee the moral and ethical conduct of the members and examine the cases referred to it with reference to ethical and other misconduct. A complaint can be filed to the committee only through a law maker. Moreover the complaints are given in a written format substantiated by necessary supporting documents to the Speaker of Lok Sabha or Chairman of Rajya Sabha. The complainant shall be accompanied by an affidavit that the complaints made are true and is not made to falsely accuse a Member of parliament. The Speaker of Lok sabha then refers the complaint under 233B of rules of procedure to the Committee of ethics which shall examine the matter in detail and call for evidences and witnesses. The committe shall make recommendations under Rule 316C which will then be considered by Lok Sabha.
Thus the purpose of ethics committees is to ensure that no Member of Parliament or Legislator works in a manner prejudicial to interests of the people. Any complaint referred to the Ethics Committe is highly serious in nature. The defendent can defend him/herself using facts and measures available at disposal. However it is never right to slam doors at the hearing.
Keeping politics apart, the purpose of ethics panel is to ensure utmost integrity and probity into the life of a Parliamentarian. Hence instead of complaining about the Ethics Panel, the concerned Member should try to plead her case and shed the individualist super ego. It is not about respecting Parliament or otherwise, it is about disrespecting the will of the people who has sanctioned the Member to be present in the House. Parliament is the sacrosanct temple of our democracy, and its laid down rules and principles must be respected by all. Otherwise, anarchy shall reign and such an anarchy can lead to collapse of our democracy.
(Adarsh Kuniyillam is a Parliamentary Analyst. Views Express are His Own)