In a country where bribery is rampant, the task of probing bribery charges gets to be irksome and often pointless. More often than not, bribery charges get proved, but very little happens by way of punishment of the culprits because of the law’s serious delay in India. It is not at all unusual even for a crimil case to go on for over a decade before judgement is delivered. In such a situation, there is generally no fear of the law, which is one of the strongest disincentives to crime. However, charges of bribery against members of Parliament or MLAs fall in a different category since MPs and MLAs are lawmakers, and Parliament obviously cannot condone lawbreaking by lawmakers. And that was why Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan had to take a very serious view of things when a sting operation recently revealed bribery charges against five Trimool Congress MPs of the Lok Sabha and one of the Rajya Sabha. The matter came out in the open when Trimool Congress MPs even accused each other of being thieves on the floor of the Lok Sabha. This left the Speaker of the Lok Sabha with no choice but to take action according to the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha. Accordingly, the Speaker announced on Wednesday: “Keeping in view the extreme gravity of the matter, I have in exercise of my powers under the provisions of Rule 233B of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha decided to refer the matter to the Committee on Ethics for examition, investigation and report.” She also expressed the view that the allegations were very serious in ture and sought to impact upon the very credibility of parliamentarians and the Parliament as an institution, and therefore needed to be examined.
Handing over such probes to the Ethics Committee is standard practice for the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. One recalls a similar probe by a parliamentary committee in the Lok Sabha and the Ethics Committee in the Rajya Sabha in the year 2005 in the wake of the ‘cash-for-query’ scam, which had led to the membership of 11 MPs (10 of the Lok Sabha and one of the Rajya Sabha) being termited. At that time too the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Somth Chatterjee, had initiated similar action under the rules of the House. As such, Trimool Congress, which generally makes claims of a higher level of probity than other political parties, found the carpet virtually pulled from under its feet after the rada sting operation. The only affected Lok Sabha MP of the party who protested the Speaker’s action was Saugata Roy who claimed that the decision was unilateral and one-sided. Roy’s contention was that if such sting operations against MPs become a practice, inquiries would be ordered on “unverified” contents. His principal objection probably was that the sting related to April 2014, prior to the constitution of the present Lok Sabha. It can very well be argued that if the misdeeds of MPs were left uttended merely because they related to a period before a particular Lok Sabha, lawbreaking MPs would routinely choose the interregnum between two Lok Sabhas to indulge in crimes like acceptance of bribes. What is more important, however, is that we have so far not had any sting operations on “unverified” contents, and almost all sting operations have been in the best interests of the people. In a scerio where a sizeable number of legislators have crimil records and pending cases against them, it would not do to pretend that all lawmakers are saints and can, therefore, be permitted to be above the law. This is beginning to happen, and must be firmly resisted by the people just as they must resist the political culture of letting the Legislature become a safe asylum for crimil elements.