New Delhi, Dec 8 (IANS): A war of words erupted in Lok Sabha on Friday between Speaker Om Birla and Congress member Manish Tewari after the latter said that all the members are sitting as a judge and a jury to decide the fate of a colleague.
At this, Birla remarked that he was a Speaker of the House and not a judge.
The argument ensued when Birla took the Ethics Committee report recommendation for expulsion of Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra in alleged cash for parliament query charge for discussion in the House.
Speaking in favour of Moitra, Tewari said: "It's been 31 years since the time I started practicing law. But for the first time, I am standing to debate without going through the documents. It is shocking that at 12 noon we got the report and then we start discussing the same at 2 p.m."
Citing the Leader of Congress in the House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Tewari said: "He (Chowdhury) truly said that heavens would not have fallen had we given three to four days to take cognisance of this report and then keep our opinions before the House because it is going to make a decision on a very sensitive matter."
The MP from Punjab's Anandpur Sahib said: "My first question is can the procedure of the Ethics Committee override the fundamental principle of natural justice which is the organising principle of every justice system in the world? I am saying this because from what we read in the newspaper, the one who has been made an accused and charges levelled against her, she was not able to complete her deposition."
"What kind of procedure is this, what kind of justice system is this.
"Thus the fundamental principle of natural justice system is given full opportunity to present his or her side. And one should get the opportunity to cross examine the people who have levelled the allegations. And as far as I know that Moitra was not been allowed to cross examine the others," he said.
Tewari also said that he studied the rule 316 (D) and it says that the recomendations of the committee shall be presented in the form of a report.
"I want to ask a fundamental question, there is a difference in conviction and sentencing. The committee can recommend if one is guilty or innocent, but it cannot recommend that what punishment should be given. That power lies with the House," he noted.
"It is this House which is sitting as jury has the power to decide the quantum of punishment. So therefore the recommendation of the committee is fundamentally flawed in my submission."
Tewari further said that on Friday, all parties issued three line whip.
"Today this house is sitting as a judge and a jury. In an impeachment proceedings, or when you are considering the report of the Privileges Committee or Ethics Committee, can a party direct to vote in a particular way, can a whip be issued. This is like directing a judge to decide a matter in particular manner," he pointed out.
"This is a complete travesty of justice. Today we are not sitting as ordinary members of the House because we are sitting as judges and a jury in order to decide the fate of one of our colleagues," Tewari said.
Following the mention of judge and jury multiple times by the Congress leader, the Speaker intervened and asked: "Are you arguing in the House or in Court?"
Tewari retorted that it is a court today.
"We are not sitting as MPs but as judges to decide the fate of our colleagues."
Birla objected. "This is Parliament and not a court. You are senior and you should look at what you are speaking. I am not a judge. I am a Speaker."
Tewari then said that: "Speaker, I have obeyed all your orders and decisions in the House in the last four and half years but I am differing with you today because we are sitting here as judges and a jury to decide the fate of one of the colleagues."
Birla again said that there is a difference between the House and judiciary. "Here I am not taking the decision as the decision is being taken by the members of the House. Don't give the wrong impression. I am Speaker not a judge; these things go in the report," he remarked. He also said that here the house is deciding and not him.
Tewari again said that the whip needs to be withdrawn, saying: "According to 105(2), statements made within the house are granted immunity. Are we supposed to disregard the Constitution?"
Chowdhury had earlier said that the report was tabled after 12 noon and at 2 p.m., the discussion was started.
He said that the report has 106 pages, and there are many annexures and other documents which in total is more than 400 pages and in two hours, no one will be able to go through such a detailed report which is running in 406 pages.
"It is not possible for a human to read the entire report. Can anyone go through all the pages in two hours? I have demanded that at least three to four days time should be given for a detailed discussion on the report in the House. This issue will have a big impact and will prove to be an example. Even the court asks for the last wish as part of natural justice," he said.
Chowdhury said that even Moitra should get the chance to speak. "The new House should not begin a dark chapter. The House which targets the women is not good," he said.
However, Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi objected to his remarks.