Posted on 01.12.17 by Satya Prasoon
A five-Judge Bench was constituted in the Supreme Court to adjudge the judicial relevance of a Parliamentary Standing Committee Report (PSCR) in the case of Kalpana Mehta v UOI. The Bench consisting of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud, A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan and started listening to arguments on 12.10.2017.
The arguments from the respondents, represented by Mr. Harish Salve, Mr. Shyam Divan and Attorney General KK Venugopal, primarily rested on the doctrine of separation of powers. The main thrust of their arguments was that in the case of co-equal institutions, one institution could not evaluate or review the proceedings of the other institution. The norm had to be respected as it was part of the basic structure of the Constitution.
They further contended that anything stated in a Parliamentary Committee was covered by the parliamentary privileges conferred upon members of the House by way of Articles 105 and 122 of the Constitution. This privilege also extended to publications of proceedings of the Parliament and its Committees, which included the PSCR.
The respondents went on to submit that a PSCR might be relied upon only in two situations: (i) to understand the legislative history of the statute; and (ii) to understand legislative intent and prevent ambiguity. In the case at hand, as neither of the two situations had arisen, the PSCR could not be relied upon.
Lastly, Mr Salve stated that in the present case the Committee Report did not have the power to hold the executive responsible as it was merely advisory in nature. Its findings had not attained finality and were subject to discussion and deliberation in the House. He cited various Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Rules that supported this argument. Throughout the arguments of the respondents, the Bench raised various questions regarding the need for a more liberal interpretation of separation of powers in the light of compelling public interest.
The petitioners on the other hand, represented by Mr Colin Gonsalves and Mr Anand Grover, contended that the PSCR in the present case was was not being used as evidence in a criminal proceeding but was merely being used to appraise the Court of certain facts. They contended that the Report was being relied upon only to highlight an issue of public importance. Thus, especially in cases of PIL, a PSCR could be relied upon.
In light of the same, they also submitted that since the Report was already in the public domain, it was not subject to the parliamentary privileges of the House, and thus was admissible in a Court of Law. Mr Gonsalves also cited Section 57 of the Evidence Act which allowed the Court to look into parliamentary proceedings, to stress the fact that even in the case of a writ petition parliamentary proceedings could be subject to judicial review.
Mr Grover contended that while the purpose of parliamentary privilege was to prevent judicial scrutiny of parliamentary proceedings, in the present case, the executive was being shielded. Therefore, a PSCR could be looked into, not only for illuminating legislative intent or tracing legislative history, but also to hold the executive and other public departments accountable. Therefore, the petitioners concluded, a limited reliance on a PSCR did not violate parliamentary privilege and could be subject to judicial review.
In this regard, the Bench observed that PSCRs might be relied upon on a case to case basis, especially in those cases involving compelling public interest. The respondents however disagreed with this case to case examination approach, stating that the parliament had its own procedure to record facts brought out by the PSCR which was different from the procedure adopted by Courts. Therefore, no part of a PSCR could be subject to discussion in Court.
With this, hearings were concluded and the matter was reserved for judgement on 01.11.2017.
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