10 Apr 2010

Irregularity in parliamentary proceedings not subject to challenge: Constitutional Bench

Dismissing a writ petition filed before the Supreme Court challenging the proceedings undertaken by the Thirteenth Lok Sabha on the ground that the President has not addressed both Houses of Parliament as envisaged under Article 87 of the Constitution, a Constitutional Bench of five judges of the Supreme Court in a recent decision has declared that while there no such irregularity, in any case the irregularity in a parliamentary proceedings was not subject to review by the Courts.

Examining the constitutional set-up on the issue of address by the Parliament to the new sessions of the Parliament, the Bench made the following observations;
7. In the United Kingdom the Queen and two Houses of Parliament constitutes the Legislature so that the Queen is an integral part of the Legislature. 
8. In India the same model has been adopted. Article 79 of the Constitution provides that there shall be a Parliament for the Union, which consists of the President and the two Houses to be known respectively as the Council of the State and the House of the People. Article 83 (2) provides that the House of the People, unless sooner dissolved, shall continue for five years from the date appointed for its first meeting and no longer and the expiration of the said period of five years shall operate as a dissolution of the House, except during a proclamation of Emergency, the period of five years may be extended for a period not extending one year at a time, and not extending in any case beyond six months after such proclamation cease to operate. Under Article 85 (1), the President has to summon each House of the Legislature at such time and place as he thinks fit, so that six months do not intervene between its last sitting in one Session and its first sitting in the next. ...
9. Article 86 speaks about Right of the President to address and send messages to Houses.
10. The scheme of the Constitution, as is evident from the compendium of Articles referred to hereinabove, reveals that Union Parliament consists of the President and the Council of States and the House of the People unless dissolved earlier, the House of the People continues for five years from the date of its first meeting, and the expiration of five years operates as a dissolution of the House except that during proclamation of Emergency, the period of five years may be extended at a time not exceeding one year and not extending in any case beyond six months after such proclamation has ceased to operate. The President is under constitutional mandate to summon each House of the Parliament from time to time to meet at such time and place as he thinks fit. The President alone is vested with the power to summon the House from time to time and prorogue the House or either House; and to dissolve the House of the People. The President has a right to address either House or both the Houses together and for that purpose require the attendance of Members. He may send messages to either House of Parliament, whether with respect to a Bill then pending in Parliament or otherwise, and the House to which message is sent is required to take the same into consideration. ...
12. A plain reading of Article 87 clearly suggests that (a) the President shall address at the commencement of the first session after each general election to the House of the People; and (b) at the commencement of the first session of each year.
15. The words “first session of the year” employed in Article 87 (1) has no reference to resumption of the adjourned session. The session commences with the President’s summoning the House to meet. It is Article 85 which deals with the summoning of Sessions of Parliament, prorogation and dissolution of the House of People. The constitutional provision does not require summoning of every Session of Parliament which was adjourned for its own reasons after commencement of its Session pursuant to the summons of the President. It is only when a House is prorogued and a new Session thereafter summoned under Article 85 (2) of the Constitution, the special address by the President a provided for under Article 87 (1) is required with reference to the new Session so as to inform the Parliament of the cause of its summons. No such special address is needed, if a Sessions is adjourned sine die in the previous year and the sittings of the same Session is resumed in the next year. 
16.Articles 85 and 87 were amended so as to do away with the summoning of Parliament twice a year and the constitutional requirement of the President’s special address at the commencement of each Session. The present constitutional position is that not more than six months are to elapse between the last Session and the first day of the following Session. The House is now prorogued only once a year and the President addresses both Houses of Parliament only at the commencement of the first Session of each year. 
17.Article 87, as it originally stood, provided for the President’s address in ‘every Session of the year’. The first amendment in 1951 substituted the words “every Session” by “first Session of each year”. By the first amendment, Articles 85 and 174 were also amended.
The Bench also explained the difference between "Prorogation" and "Adjournment" in the following terms;
20. An adjournment is an interruption in the course of one and the same Session, whereas a prorogation terminates a Session. The effect of prorogation is to put an end with certain exceptions to all proceedings in Parliament then current. ...
23. It is thus clear that whenever the House resumes after it is adjourned sine die, its resumption for the purpose of continuing its business does not amount to commencement of the session.
Expressing its limitations, the Constitutional Bench further observed that "A plain reading of Article 122 [of the Constitution] makes it abundantly clear that the validity of any proceeding in the Parliament shall not be called in question on the ground of any irregularity of procedure. ... The petitioner is essentially raising a dispute as to the regularity and legality of the proceedings in the House of the People. The dispute raised essentially centers around the question as to whether the Speaker’s direction to resume sittings of the Lok Sabha which was adjourned sine die on 23rd December, 2003 is proper? The Speaker is the guardian of the privileges of the House and its spokesman and representative upon all occasions. He is the interpreter of its rules and procedure, and is invested with the power to control and regulate the course of debate and to maintain order. The powers to regulate Procedure and Conduct of Business of the House of the People vests in the Speaker of the House. ... Whether the resumed sittings on 29th January, 2004 was to be treated as the second part of the 14th session as directed by the Speaker is essentially a matter relating purely to the procedure of Parliament. The validity of the proceedings and business transacted in the House after resumption of its sittings cannot be tested and gone into by this Court in a proceeding under Article 32 of the Constitution of India." "31, 31. Under Article 122 (2), the decision of the Speaker in whom powers are vested to regulate the procedure and the Conduct of Business is final and binding on every Member of the House. ... No decision of the Speaker can be challenged by a member of the House complaining of mere irregularity in procedure in the conduct of the business. Such decisions are not subject to the jurisdiction of any Court and they are immune from challenge as understood and explained in Keshav Singh’s case and further explained in Indira Nehru Gandhi Vs. Raj Narain & Anr. It is a right of each House of Parliament to be the sole judge of the lawfulness of its own proceedings. The Courts cannot go into the lawfulness of the proceedings of the Houses of Parliament. wherein it was observed that “the House is not subject to the control of the courts in the administration of the internal proceedings of the House.” The Constitution aims at maintaining a fine balance between the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. The object of the constitutional scheme is to ensure that each of the constitutional organs function within their respective assigned sphere. Precisely, that is the constitutional philosophy inbuilt into Article 122 of the Constitution of India."

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