Of teacher-MPs and dual salaries

Print edition : September 01, 2001

How a CAG finding that some Members of Parliament had simultaneously drawn salaries as university teachers remains on paper two years after the audit report was tabled in the Assembly.

THERE is much talk about the cancerous growth of corruption in public life and the criminalisation of politics in India. Every political party makes solemn declarations, especially in election manifestoes, to eradicate corruption and to provide clean government. At the same time, there is growing awareness among the people about the phenomenal growth of corruption and misuse of power, irrespective of which party comes to power.

The Patna University building.-RANJEET KUMAR

I came across a serious finding in an audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) about financial irregularities committed by some Members of Parliament. Under the Bihar Universities Act and the Patna University Act, teaching and non-teaching members of those universities and their constituent colleges can seek election to Parliament and the State legislature. However, the Acts have laid down that the members so elected shall be deemed to be on special leave without pay during the tenure of their membership in the legislature.

Two persons, Dr. S.N. Srivatsva and Dr. P.N. Sharma, challenged this provision in court and went to the Supreme Court in appeal. The Supreme Court granted a stay on December 3, 1982, but vacated it on August 27, 1990. Finally, the apex court dismissed the appeal on August 3, 1994. Thus, the Supreme Court upheld the provision in the two Acts prohibiting teacher-MPs from drawing salary from university funds.

However, based on the scrutiny of the universities and their constituent colleges in Bihar, the audit report states that five teachers who were elected/nominated as Members of Parliament were paid salaries from the university funds during the tenure of their membership of Parliament in contravention of the aforesaid provisions of Acts (Para 6.6).

Neither the amounts involved nor the particulars of the period of audit are material for our consideration. The prime question is how a teacher-MP came to draw salaries from university funds and from the Parliament Secretariat, in contravention of the law of the university concerned and the decision of the Supreme Court.

The audit report of the CAG is submitted to the Governor, who causes it to be placed before the State legislature. Then the legislators, the media and the public become aware of any financial and other irregularities pointed out in the report. The audit paragraphs relating to the payment of double salaries were included in the Report No.1 (Civil) for the year ended March 31, 1998, and this Report was presented to the legislature on August 3, 1999. It is a document in the public domain and the people have a right to demand fixing responsibility and taking action against the Members and persons who violated the law.

It is the well-established practice of the office of the CAG that before including its comments in a report, it sends the draft paragraphs to the department or organisation concerned for verification of facts and comments. The comments of the department or organisation are taken into consideration before the draft paragraphs are finalised for inclusion in the audit report.

About the reaction of Patna University on the draft paragraph sent to it for verification, the audit report states: "Patna University, while admitting (January 1998) that the drawal of salary by the concerned individuals was irregular, stated that the persons concerned were themselves the drawing and disbursing officers and drew their salaries and that matter is under investigation by the university" (Para 6.6, page 293).

If the disbursing officer happens to be the drawing officer also, the offence committed is doubly serious as there is breach of trust in addition to the illegal drawal of the amounts from university funds.

Irrespective of the end-result of the ongoing investigations by the Patna University and others, the seriousness of the irregularity appears to have been worsened by the fact that the members who had been elected to the highest legislative forum in the country, Parliament, also held distinguished positions in the universities and colleges. A Professor should be an inspiring guide to students in the pursuit of truth and discipline and set an example by practising what he or she preaches about ethical values for an honest citizenry.

Regarding the conduct of Members of Parliament, Kaul and Shakdher state: "In order to maintain the highest tradition in parliamentary life, Members of Parliament are expected to observe certain standard of conduct, both inside the House as well as outside. Their behaviour should be as such as to enhance the dignity of Parliament and its members in general. The conduct of members should not be contrary to the usage, or derogatory to the dignity of the House or in any way inconsistent with the standards, which Parliament is entitled to expect of them. The House has a right to punish its members for their misconduct. It exercises its jurisdiction of scrutiny over its members for their conduct, whether it takes place inside the House or outside."

THE Mudgal case illustrates the serious concern shown by the nascent Parliament of India (1951) about the misconduct of a Member. On receiving complaints that H.G. Mudgal from Bombay had received monetary benefits in connection with his dealings with the Bullion Merchants Association, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wanted a thorough enquiry by Parliament. He approached Speaker G.V. Mavalankar in this regard. At that time, Members of Parliament raised the question whether the matter could not be sent to the Privileges Committee as an instance of breach of privilege of the House.

Speaker Mavalankar said: "A Member may behave in a manner in which the House would not like him to behave and yet it may be argued that it is not a breach of privilege." At his suggestion, Prime Minister Nehru, as the Leader of the House, moved a resolution for the appointment of an ad hoc committee to enquire into the allegation made against Mudgal. The committee found Mudgal guilty of receiving monetary benefits from the business association. The finding of the committee was that Mudgal's conduct was "derogatory to the dignity of the House and inconsistent with the standards which Parliament was entitled to expect of its members."

There are some points of perennial interest to Parliament in the objective view taken by Jawaharlal Nehru in the Mudgal case. During the investigation, the committee found that in all the business association had paid Rs.1,000 each on two occasions, though there was evidence of Mudgal anticipating great expectations from the source.

On September 24, 1951, while moving the resolution for expelling Mudgal from the House, Jawaharlal Nehru said: "This case is as bad as it could well be. If we consider even such a case as a marginal case or as one where certain laxity might be shown, I think it will be unfortunate from a variety of points of view, more especially because, this being the first case of its kind coming before the House, if the House does not express its will in such matters in clear, unambiguous and forceful terms, then doubts may very well arise in public mind as to whether the House is very definite about such matters or not. Therefore it has become a duty for us and an obligation to be clear, precise and definite. The facts are clear and precise and unambiguous. The decision of the House should also be clear and precise and unambiguous." (emphasis added.)

After participating in the discussion, Mudgal submitted his resignation and withdrew from the House before the House could vote on the resolution of expulsion.

The question posed was whether the House could expel a person who was no longer a Member of the House. Then the Prime Minister moved an amendment that for the words "and resolves that Shri Mudgal be expelled from the House", the following be substituted: "and resolves that Shri Mudgal deserved expulsion from the House and further that the terms of the resignation letter he gave to the Deputy Speaker at the conclusion of his statement constitute a contempt of this House which only aggravate his offence."

This confirms the parliamentary practice that where a person concerned has ceased to be a Member, the House still has the right to take action against him or her for breach of privilege or misconduct committed by him or her as a Member.

In the area of issues related to ethics and code of conduct, the United States Senate has the Select Committee on Ethics and the House of Representatives has the Select Committee on Standards and Official Conduct.

On the recommendations of the Nolan Committee, the House of Commons in the U.K. proceeded, in 1995, to form a Committee of Standards and Privileges replacing the historic Committee of Privileges and the Select Committee on Members' Interests.

In India, the Presiding Officers' Conference of 1996 adopted a resolution which noted inter alia: "Conduct of the legislators inside and outside the Houses has come to be considered as matters of very serious concern by the people in general. This has very grave implications for the dignity of the Legislatures and the future of democracy. In this context, the constitution of Ethics Committees by the Legislatures for ensuring basic standards of probity of the Members should be examined with special reference to the establishment of such institutions by legislative bodies elsewhere in the world."

Accordingly, the Ethics Committee of the Rajya Sabha was constituted in March 1997. The Study Group of the Lok Sabha Privileges Committee was initially for entrusting the work to the Committee on Ethics and Privileges, which meant expanding the role and functions of the Committee of Privileges. Later the Privileges Committee of the Lok Sabha reviewed its recommendation and in its report of March 2000 recommended the constitution of a separate Ethics Committee in the Lok Sabha.

The Audit findings on dual salary payments to the teacher-MPs deserve due attention of the Ethics Committee of the Lok Sabha. Just because the payments received by the teacher-MPs, in contravention of specific provisions of the law and the decision of the Supreme Court, have been included in the audit report containing the findings in respect of the universities in Bihar, it should not presumed that only the Bihar legislature or its Select Committee is competent to examine the irregularities pointed out. The conduct of Members of the Lok Sabha should be examined only by the Lok Sabha or by its committee. It is for the Public Accounts Committee or any other Committee of the Bihar Legislature to investigate how the disbursing authorities of the university concerned made those payments against the provisions of the University Act.

The Study Group of the Lok Sabha Privileges Committee has recommended broad parameters for dealing with complaints relating to the unbecoming conduct of a Member or his or her unethical behaviour. A complaint may be taken up for investigation by the Ethics Committee through one or other of the following means:

1.The Speaker may refer the complaint to the Ethics Committee. 2.The House may, on a motion, refer a complaint relating to unethical conduct of members to the Ethics Committee. 3.The Ethics Committee may suo motu take up for investigation matters relating to ethics, wherever it is felt necessary to do so.

Frivolous or worthless allegations should not of course be allowed to take up the time of the Ethics Committee. As in the case of a complaint on breach of privilege, "it is of utmost importance that the allegations are based on solid, tested and checked facts".

In respect of a complaint of breach of privilege, which appears to be genuine, the Speaker or the House normally refers it to the Privileges Committee. In the present case of drawal of dual salaries by the teacher-MPs, the scrutiny has been done by no less an institution than the constitutional authority, the Comptroller and Auditor-General. The findings have been sent to and verified by the sources of payments before inclusion in the audit report. The Ethics Committee may start its investigation on the basis of the audit report and its authentic evidence based on solid, tested and checked facts.

When the sittings of both Houses of Parliament got disrupted for a number of days during the Budget session this year over the disturbing disclosure of the Tehelka tapes, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee addressed the nation on Doordarshan on March 16 and declared, inter alia, that "our government and beyond that our political system, must be cleansed, that it must function to the highest standards of priority." The Prime Minister also assured the nation: "If anyone has done wrong, he must be brought to book - swiftly and with the fullest force of law" (emphasis added.)

THERE are two important objectives to be noted in the handling of the Mudgal case by the Provisional Parliament. First, the House took action against a Member whose misconduct was derogatory to the dignity of the House. Secondly, a more significant guidance to posterity was that Mudgal, Member of the Provisional Parliament, belonged to the Congress party.

In initiating the inquiry, forming the committee and moving the resolution for his expulsion, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru rose above party lines. Members of the committee and Members of the House, though predominantly belonging to the ruling Congress party, also considered the issue to be above party affiliation. Nehru acted as the Leader of the House and the Members of Parliament uniformly took a stand above party considerations to protect the dignity of the House and the ethical values of public life of the country.

On the basis of the Nolan Committee report, the House of Commons has formulated a Code of Conduct for its members. The prime emphasis in the Code of Conduct of the Commons is: "Members have a duty to uphold the law and to act on all occasions in accordance with the public trust placed in them."

In Parliamentary Practice Erskine May states: "Members have been expelled for a wide variety of causes: Being in open rebellion, being guilty of certain criminal offences, such as forgery, perjury, fraud or breach of trust, conspiracy to defraud, misappropriation of public money." Breach of trust and misappropriation of public money are serious offences inviting stern punishment by the Commons.

It may be noted that the illegal payments made to the teacher-MPs, as mentioned in the audit report, involved only a few Members and that these irregularities should not be taken as casting any reflection on the general conduct and discipline of the rest of the Members.

Members are elected to Parliament to represent the wishes and will of the people and to exercise control over the government in all matters, financial, legislative and administrative. Members of Parliament are not only makers of law, but also guardians of the rule of law. If some lawmakers are found to have turned into law-breakers and if there is no check on such breach of law and conduct, the people will lose confidence in the entire system of parliamentary democracy and the rule of law will become a mockery.

The people look up to Parliament not only as an apex legislative body of the country for making laws and supervising the government, but to lead them in times of crisis. The crisis may be of a political, economic or moral nature. A political crisis may be controlled by consensus and compromise; a financial crisis may be resolved by strenuous work and shrewd rearrangement of priorities. But it will be very difficult to recover the dignity of the state and the confidence of the people when there is deep moral bankruptcy.

When the executive is corrupt, the people can correct it through the ballot and through a newly elected legislature. When the legislature is corrupt it is the end of the state. In his The Spirit of Laws, Montesquieu asserted that the nation "will perish when the legislative power is more corrupt than the executive."

Era Sezhiyan is former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament.

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