Congress slams ED move to issue Kharge summons during House session

Days after Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu said MPs enjoy no immunity from arrest in criminal cases even when Parliament is in session, the Congress on Monday said summons issued to any MP by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) or other law enforcement agencies during a session is an outright affront to the “sacred institution” of Parliament and Parliamentarians.

Naidu’s remarks had come amid protests by the Congress over ED’s summons to Mallikarjun Kharge, the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, in the National Herald case.

In a statement, Ramesh said: “…in such matters, issuing of summons by ED or any law-enforcing agencies to any MP, much less the Leader of Opposition, when Parliament is in session, is an outright affront to the sacred institution of Parliament and Parliamentarians. Under the circumstances, in keeping with the sanctity of Parliament and Parliamentarians and its time-honoured conventions, it is high time that presiding officers of both Houses may deliberate and ensure that such gross affronts on Parliament and MPs does not recur.”

Without mentioning any particular instance, Naidu had said, “There is a wrong notion among the members that they have a privilege from action by agencies while the session is on.”

Referring to Naidu’s observation, Ramesh, Congress’s chief whip in Rajya Sabha, said, “There is no dispute whatsoever on the well-established position that privileges are not available in criminal cases, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in K Ananda Nambiar and R Umanath vs Chief Secretary to Govt of Madras. The point of contention is not on this aspect.”

Ramesh said Kharge was not an accused in the National Herald case and the ED had summoned him on August 4 seeking his “invariable presence” on the premises of Young Indian Limited for the purpose of conducting a search in his presence and recording his statement.

“In this context, attention is also drawn to Rule 229 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha and Rule 222A of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Council of States (Rajya Sabha), provisions of which require that whenever a Member of Parliament is arrested on a criminal charge or for a criminal offence or is sentenced to imprisonment by a court or is detained under an executive order, the committing judge, magistrate or executive authority, an intimation in this regard has to be immediately sent to Speaker Lok Sabha or Chairman Rajya Sabha as the case may be.”

Ramesh stated: “The legislative intent behind these provisions is that the House has a right to be informed as to why a Member is not able to attend sitting of the House, reason being no obstruction is caused to a Member of Parliament in performance of his/her Parliamentary duties unless and until there are sufficient reasons meaning thereby their detention under a criminal case.”

But Kharge’s case, Ramesh stated, was different.

Ramesh said the ED sent a summons to Kharge on August 3 requiring his presence at the office of Young India. Kharge, he said, replied saying that Parliament session was underway and he, being the Leader of Opposition, had prior commitments. Kharge, Ramesh stated, told ED that the authorised representative was in Delhi and he would appear on August 4, and that he would be happy to meet them on any day when Parliament is not in session.

“This request was not acceded to by the Enforcement Directorate and was insisted upon that his presence was necessary at the National Herald building at 12:30 hrs that day,” Ramesh said. He pointed out that Kharge was in the premises of Young Indian office from 1 pm to 8.20 pm on August 4, during which the search was conducted and his statement was recorded.

“The entire process took eight-and-half hours…. This exercise could very well have been conducted in the presence of counsel authorised by LOP for the purpose. ED did not accede to this request and insisted on his presence. This was done with the sole purpose of harassing LOP and the Congress…”

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