Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu on Friday said that members of Parliament cannot be exempted from being arrested in criminal cases when a session of the House is underway, PTI reported.
It is a wrong notion that MPs can avoid summons issued by law enforcement agencies, Naidu added.
His statement came a day after Congress MP and Leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge had on Thursday objected to being summoned by the Enforcement Directorate for questioning in a money laundering case related to the National Herald newspaper.
“I want to follow the law,” Kharge had told the members of the Upper House on Thursday. “But is it appropriate to summon me at this time, in the middle of the Parliament session?”
As the Rajya Sabha proceedings started on Friday morning, Congress MPs held protests in the House against alleged misuse of investigating agencies by the central government. The session had to be adjourned after around 10 Congress members reached the Well of the House. They said that Kharge had been insulted by being summoned during the session.
As the Upper House proceedings resumed after the adjournment, Naidu said that members of the Parliament enjoy certain privileges so that they can perform their duties without any hindrances under Article 105 of the Constitution, PTI reported.
“One of the privileges is that a member of Parliament cannot be arrested in a civil case 40 days before the commencement of the session or committee meeting and 40 days thereafter,” he added. This privilege, he said, is already incorporated under Section 135A of the Civil Procedure Court. But Naidu noted that the rules are different for MPs accused in criminal cases.
“However in criminal matters, members of Parliament are not on a different footing than a common citizen,” the Rajya Sabha chairman said. “That means members of Parliament do not enjoy any immunity from being arrested in a criminal case during the session or otherwise.”
He also cited the Supreme Court rulings and his past observations, PTI reported.
Naidu urged members not to avoid appearing before any investigating agency for questioning.
“It applies to all,” he said. “…Because you can only perform when the House is in session seeking further date but you cannot avoid the enforcement agencies or the law enforcement agencies’ summons or notices. This has to be taken note of by one and all.”
The money laundering case
The National Herald was founded and edited by Jawaharlal Nehru before he became India’s first prime minister.
In April 2008, the newspaper suspended operations as it had incurred a debt of over Rs 90 crore. Bharatiya Janata Party MP Subramanian Swamy has accused Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi of setting up the Young Indian Private Limited firm to buy the debt using the funds from the Congress.
In his complaint before a trial court, Swamy accused the Gandhis and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate the funds. He has alleged that the Young Indian firm paid only Rs 50 lakh to obtain the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore that the Associated Journals Limited owed to the Congress.
The party had loaned the amount to Associated Journals Limited on an interest-free basis, according to court records. The Congress has claimed that there was no money exchange and only conversion of debt into equity took place to pay off dues like salaries.