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I N ..D E T A I L
Tuesday, December 8, 1998
NEW DELHI, Dec 7 Several Members in the Lok Sabha today urged the Speaker, Mr GMC Balayogi, to ignore the courts and give a ruling on the restoration of telephone and cooking gas connections to MPs.
A mention of the functioning of the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLAD) by the Samajwadi Party member, Mr Shailendra Kumar, during zero hour turned into an impromptu debate on the role of the judiciary, with several MPs taking exception to the interference by the courts on the facilities available to them.
The discussion on the MPLAD scheme assumed an aggressive tone after the leader of the Trinamool Congress, Ms Mamata Banerjee, said that representatives elected directly by the people were being discriminated against in favour of members of the Rajya Sabha.
She pointed out that the Rajya Sabha members were being provided vehicles to inspect the progress of the MPLAD schemes and were still entitled to a quota of telephone and cooking gas connections. She said the peoples representatives were supreme and if they could not be provided these facilities then it should be discontinued for Rajya Sabha members also.
At this stage, the Petroleum Minister, Mr K.Ramamurthy, said that as far as the release of cooking gas was concerned, his ministry had already prepared the coupons and was awaiting the Speakers direction in this regard. He said the court had no authority on the Lok Sabha.
The Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr Madan Lal Khurana, intervened to say that there was an interim order by a High Court on the release of quotas for Lok Sabha MPs. The matter was before the Kerala High Court and the Additional Solicitor-General had made a representation in the court yesterday. He said he would get in touch with the Additional Solicitor General and ascertain the details of the court proceedings before making any commitment.
A former Prime Minister, Mr Chandrashekhar, was quick to react and said Mr Khuranas stand was highly objectionable as there was no need for him to get in touch with the Additional Solicitor General or for that matter get any guidance from a court before deciding on the Members privileges.
He told the Speaker that his decision should not be deferred because of the matter being under scrutiny in some court. "Courts are going beyond their jurisdiction. We have to respect the honour of the judiciary but they are indicating to the whole world that they dont have any respect for Parliament", he said.
Mr Chandrashekhar said there should be mutual respect between both the judiciary and Parliament. He said the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, by making the statement, had failed to maintain the dignity of the House.
The Samajwadi Party leader, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, intervened to ask the Speaker whether he would stop the proceedings of the House at the behest of the Supreme Court. He said in a democracy, Members of Parliament, were supreme and they need not bother about the sentiments of the court.
The Speaker acknowledged that several MPs wanted the facilities to be restored but added that he was given to understand that the court had challenged the discretionary powers of a minister, and that was why the facilities had been stopped for Lok Sabha Members. He said he would take a decision on restoration of the quota tomorrow.
Mr Ramamurthy said the court had not served any notice to the Lok Sabha and the Speaker should go ahead and restore the facilities. "You give the direction and we will restore it (cooking gas connections)", the minister said.
Some members in the Opposition benches, including Mr T.R. Baalu of the DMK and Mr Somnath Chatterjee of the CPM objected to Mr Ramamurthys remark about blackmailing by the courts. The minister, however, stood his ground saying he had only made a general comment.
Mr Chatterjee implored that the role of the judiciary should be discussed in detail and aspersions should not be cast on it. He said the MPs supported public interest litigations that suited them and opposed those which went against their interest.
He pointed out that the courts had some constitutional powers and they had powers to set aside laws passed by Parliament on several occasions. "Let us not create tension", he added.
The Members, apart from referring to the inadequacies in the implementation of the MPLAD scheme, also demanded that the government fulfil its assurance to raise the amount under the scheme from the present Rs one crore to Rs two crore.
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