Functions of The Parliament
The functions and the powers of the Parliament are extensive and appear in Constitution at different places. The Parliament has extensive power to make laws on the items given in the Union List as well as in the Concurrent List. The items included in the Union List include Defence, External Affairs, Communications, Currency, Citizenship etc. These are the items whose uniformity across the length and breadth of the country is essential for the solid foundation of the national existence. The Concurrent List includes items such as marriage, divorce, trade, criminal law proce-dure, etc. These are the items on which uniformity is desirable but not essential. The powers of the Parliament are far reaching as it can also legislate on the matters included in the State List. However, as enshrined in Article 249, a prior approval of the Upper House is essential for the purpose. Article 250 mentions that the Parliament can legislate for the whole or any part of India or any matter mentioned in the State List during the period of Emergency. The Parliament also holds the power to elect and impeach the President and Vice-President of India. The Parliament can also impeach the judges of Supreme Court and High Courts on grounds of incapacity.
Financial Functions: The Parliament has a special function to have a grip on the finances of the country. No tax can be levied or money can be spent without the consent of the Parliament. It has one exception as the expenditure of Consolidated Fund of India is not put to vote of the Parliament. The financial business of Parliament is complex and parliament can not devote time and energies for the purpose of satisfactory discharges of responsibility of financial control. Thus financial committees have been set-up to enable Parliament to discharge this function efficiently. The committees for the purpose include Estimates Committee, the Public Accounts committee and the Committee on Public Undertakings. The Estimates Committee suggests economics in expenditure in various departments of Government. The Public Accounts Committee examines the appropriation accounts in the light of audit report of the Auditor General of India and draws attention of the Parliament to the irregularity, if any. The Committee on Public Undertakings examines the working of the public undertakings established by the working and powers of these committees.
Amendment of the Constitution: Amending the Constitution is another major function of the Parliament. There has been controversy regarding the power of Parliament with regard to access to any part of the Constitution for amendment purpose. Various judgements of Supreme Court have put a restriction on the unlimited amending power of the Parliament for amendment purpose. The Parliament in no way can amend the Constitution that it affects adversely the basic structure of the Constitution, however, is ambiguous and not spelt out in the constitution and the judiciary this way has arranged for immense power so as to decide from time to time if legislation by the Parliament is adversely affecting the Constitution or not.
Control over Executive: The performance of the Parliament with regard to control on executive is enormous. The Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha and must resign in case a ‘no confidence motion’ is passed against the minister. Individually, the ministers are responsible for the proper working of the ministries under their charge and collectively for the general policies of the Government. The Parliament through procedures provided by the House like asking questions, calling attentions, adjournment motions, etc, keeps a constant vigil on the working of the administration and the lapses of the Government.
Parliamentary Privileges and Immunities
Parliamentary privileges i.e. exceptional right or advantages are granted to the members of legislatures all over the world. Thus, in most of the democratic countries, the legislatures and their members enjoy certain privileges so as to function effectively. Privilege though part of the law of the land, is to a certain extent an exemption from the ordinary law. It would not be wrong to say that privilege is to Parliament what prerogative is to the Crown. Just as prerogatives can be exercised by the Crown without help or hindrance from Parliament or the judges, the privileges can be exercised by the House of the Parliament without help or hindrance from the judges.
Prerogative vs. Privilege
Prerogative is the authority of the Crown whereas privilege is the discretionary authority of each House of Parliament. Privilege is an ancillary power which is essential to maintain the authority of the legislature, and the functions, privileges and disciplinary powers of a legislative body are closely connected. However, the distinction between privileges and functions is not always clear, and it is convenient to retain the term ‘privilege’ to signify certain fundamental rights of the legislature which are generally accepted as necessary for the exercise of its constitutional functions. The privileges are the necessary complement of the functions, and disciplinary powers of the legislature. The privileges of a legislative assembly would be ‘entirely in effectual to enable it to discharge its functions, if it had no power to punish offender, to impose disciplinary regulations upon its members, or to enforce obedience to its commands. Thus, necessity is the justification for the privileges of Parliament.
Constitutional provisions relating to Parliamentary Privileges
Some of the privileges of Parliament, and of its members and committees, are specified in the Constitution and there are certain statutes and the rules of procedure of the House; others continue to be based on the precedents of the House of Commons. These privileges are available to all the legislatures in the states as well. The main articles of the Constitution of India dealing with the privileges of Parliament are 105 and 122 and the corresponding articles for the states are 194 and 212. Article 105 (1) of the Constitution of India provides that, subject to the provisions of the Constitution and the rules and standing orders regulating the procedure of Parliament, there would be freedom of speech in the Parliament. Clause 2 of the Article provides that no member of Parliament would be liable to any proceedings against him in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any committee thereof, and that no person would be liable in respect of the publication of any report, paper votes or proceedings by or under the authority or either House of Parliament. Clause 3 ordains that in other respects the powers, privileges and immunities of each House of Parliament, and of the members and committees thereof, would be such as may from time to time be defined by Parliament by law, and until so defined, would be those of the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and of its members and committees, at the commencement of the Constitution of India. According to clause of this article, the provisions of clauses 1,2, and 3 would apply to persons who by virtue of the Constitution have the right to speak in or take part in the proceedings of a House of Parliament or a committee thereof, as they apply to the members of Parliament.
WHAT TYPES OF PARLIAMENTARY PRIVILEGES
ARE AVAILABLE IN INDIA?
There are two categories of Parliamentary privileges in India, the specified and enumerated, and the recognised but unenumerated.
The first category includes; (a) Freedom of speech in each House of Parliament; (b) Immunity from proceedings in any courts in respect of anything said or vote given by a member in parliament or any committee thereof; and (c) Immunity from liability in respect of the publication by or under the authority of either House of Parliament, of any report, paper, votes or proceeding of either House.
In the second category, fall all those privileges which were enjoyed by the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and its members and committees, at the commencement of the Constitution of India and would continue to be in force unless they are modified and defined by Parliament by law.