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Mahua Moitra

Did Lok Sabha have the power to expel Mahua Moitra? How is it different from Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification?

TMC MP Mahua Moitra was expelled as an MP from the Lok Sabha following a voice vote on Friday. Union minister Pralhad Joshi moved a motion to expel the TMC leader for “unethical conduct” as the Ethics Committee report on ‘cash-for-query’ allegations was tabled in the House on Friday.

As a voice vote adopted Joshi’s motion, Trinamool MP Kalyan Banerjee claimed that the House does not have the power to remove her as a member. Even Moitra said, “The Ethics Committee has no power to expel (her)…You have assumed the powers of the quasi-judicial authority and imposed a penalty on me that you have no power to do.”

So, can the Lok Sabha expel an MP?
First, Mahua Moitra was kept from the Ethics Committee. Prahlad Joshi had moved a motion, asking the House to “agree on the recommendation (that called for Mahua’s expulsion) contained in the first report of the committee on Ethics on complaint dated 15 October 2023”.

He also sought the expulsion of Mahua as a member of the Lok Sabha after the Lok Sabha took notice of the Committee’s first report.

Mahua Moitra was expelled after the Lok Sabha voice voted in favor of her expulsion.

What’s the process of expulsion in Mahua’s case?
The ‘cash-for-query’ case against Mahua Moitra was handed to the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee.

The Committee conducted the inquiry into the matter as per the rules. During the investigation, the Ethics Committee panel questioned Moitra and other parties in the case. The Committee held Moitra guilty and recommended her expulsion from the Lok Sabha.

The recommendations of the Committee were presented in the form of a report, as the rules suggest. “The report of the Committee may also state the procedure to be followed by the House in giving effect to the recommendations made by the Committee,” the Lok Sabha says in a document.

What’s the process ahead?
The report by the Ethics Committee is presented to the Speaker, who may direct that the report be laid on the table of the House.

After the report has been presented, the Chairperson or any member of the Committee or any other member may move that the report be taken into consideration. After that, the Speaker may put the question to the House.

In this case, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi moved a motion to expel the TMC leader for “unethical conduct.”

“Before putting the question to the House, the Speaker may permit a debate on the motion, not exceeding half an hour in duration,” — which was the case on Friday.

While half an hour was given to discuss the motion, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, TMC leaders, and other opposition leaders sought more time to analyze the report. However, the suggestion was turned down.

After the motion made under sub-rule (1) is agreed to, any member may move that “the House agrees, or disagrees or agrees with amendments, with the recommendations contained in the report,” the Lok Sabha says in its document.

If the panel recommends any punitive action, a motion is brought to the House based on the proposal and voted upon.

Now, as most of the Lok Sabha members voted in favor of Mahua Moitra’s expulsion, she was expelled as an MP on Friday before the adjourning of the Lower House for the day.

This shows that the Lok Sabha worked according to the rules and continued to expel Mahua Moitra from the Lower House.

How is Mahua’s expulsion different from Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification?
Rahul Gandhi was “disqualified” as the Lok Sabha MP following his conviction in a defamation case. However, Moitra’s case is not about the disqualification but removal.

In Moitra’s matter, no offense is committed under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which is why the matter was referred to the Ethics Committee, explained Supreme Court lawyer Nipun Saxena.

Besides, Moitra was expelled following a voice vote in the House, and Rahul Gandhi was disqualified after the Lok Sabha Secretariat issued a notice to him, informing the same.

What do the rules on MP’s suspension say?
Provision for suspension of members is given in Rule 374 and Rule 374A of the Lok Sabha Rules for the Lok Sabha and Rule 256 of the Rajya Sabha Rules for Rajya Sabha.

As per the rules, “the Speaker or Chairman, as the case may be, may name any member to be suspended in case of willful disregard for the rules of the House or causing disruption in conducting sessions.”

“After naming, a motion to that effect is moved, and that member is suspended for a period not exceeding the remaining days of that session,” it adds.

Who sets rules for the Privileges Committee?
The privileges and ethics panel comes under the same branch in the Lok Sabha. While the privileges committee looks into complaints raised by MPs against officials, media, or other MPs, the ethics panel is the only Committee that probes laypersons’ complaints against lawmakers of the Lok Sabha.

Regarding the rules that apply to these committees, Articles 105 and 194 of the Constitution deal with Privileges. These Articles maintain that the rules and Regulations governing the privileges (including breach of such privilege) shall be determined by Parliament.

Therefore, Parliament or the State Legislative Assembly has the power to lay down such Regulations, which would also provide for the various privileges, breach of such privilege, and the punishment for the breach of that privilege which can be imposed.

(With inputs from Supreme Court lawyer Nipun Saxena)

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