Pandit M S M Sharma v. Shri Sri Krishna Sinha

In the Supreme Court of India

Case name:Pandit M S M Sharma v/s Shri Sri Krishna Sinha and Others
Case Citation:1959 AIR 395 SC
Date of Judgement:12th December 1958
Bench: Das, Sudhi Ranjan (CJI),Bhagwati, Natwarlal H.,Sinha, Bhuvneshwar P.,Subbarao, K.,Wanchoo, K. N.
Petitioner:Pandit M. S. M. Sharma
Respondent:Shri Sri Krishna Sinha and Others

Introduction

The term parliamentary privileges in the Indian Constitution refers to the power, rights, and immunities vested with the State Legislative Assembly and the Parliament. According to the definition provided by Sir Thomas Erskine, the term ‘Parliamentary privileges’ denotes:

“The slump of the special powers, privileges, rights, and immunities enjoyed by every house such as the freedom from arrest or freedom of speech belonging to every member of the house of parliament which also collectively constitutes to be a part of the High Court of Parliament, without which they cannot effectively discharge their functions of the house.”

When these rights and immunities get dishonoured and attacked, then that offence becomes the breach of this privilege and will get punished under the laws of the Parliament and each House also has the right to punish the offender for an offence such as disobedience to the clear commands passed by the assembly upon itself and on its members.

Defiance of the House can be conferred as “any particular act or omission of that act which obstructs or disgraces the House of Parliament in the course of performing its functions, or obstructs or disrespect any Member of the House when he or she is discharging a duty, or which may directly or indirectly, to create such expected results.” Few most important types of defiances of Parliament are as followed:

  1. Speeches or writings reflecting on the House, and its Members;
  2. Reflections on the character and biasness of the Speaker between the course of his or discharge of  duty;
  3. Publication of false or disgraded report of the Proceedings of the assembly or the speech passed in the House;
  4. Publication of the part which has been expunged under the order of the House;
  5. Publication of proceedings and witnessed happenings of secret Sessions conducted by the House;

Introduction to parties:

The petitioner, M. S. M. Sharma is a renowned editor of the English daily newspaper, ‘The Searchlight’ published in the state of Bihar.

The respondent, Krishna Sinha was holding the post of Chief Minister of Bihar and was also the Chairman of the Privileges Committee of the State of Bihar Legislative Assembly.

Related provisions:

Article 32, the Indian Constitution

  • Under Article 32 a person can acquire remedies by moving to Supreme Court when that individual’s rights granted under this Part are violated.
  • Under this Article, the Supreme Court has the supreme power to issue writs to enforce the rights and duties available under this Part and also in case of violation of any fundamental rights.
  • The Parliament also has the power to allow any other court to exercise the similar powers of the Supreme Court within the reserved limits of its jurisdiction.
  • These remedies available under this Article cannot get suspended until there is a constitutional amendment.

Article 194(3) of the Constitution

This article provides the procedure of the British House of Commons with respect to the powers, privileges, and immunities. Even then any power or privilege which militated against the fundamental rights cannot be deemed to be valid. The Legislature can follow the procedure of the British House of Commons, but this privilege of the legislature cannot go contrary to the fundamental rights. If such a privilege is allowed, the Legislature would assume sovereignty as against the Constitution itself under the hands of privileges. Even in England, the ban on the publication of the proceedings in Parliament had ceased to exist in practice after the 16th century.

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution           

Article 19(1)(a) had granted one of our fundamental rights i.e. All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression against law made by the State. There is no fundamental right available against the Constitution itself. If the Constitution provided that the House shall have certain privileges then it was clear that there cannot be a question of fundamental rights against the Constitution. If the Constitution issues the power to the House that it should function following privileges which specifies a particular amount of information or part of speech or the proceedings itself can be published then, Art. 19(1) will not prevail against the Constitution.

Article 13 of the Constitution

Through Article 13, the Constitution prevents the Parliament and the State Legislatures from creating any such laws that would or “may take away or abridge the fundamental rights” guaranteed to the citizens of the country.

Article 21 of the Constitution

Article 21 provides us with the right of Protection of Life And Personal Liberty: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.

Facts of the case:

On 30 May 1957, there was a debate in the Bihar Legislative Assembly when Mr. M. P. N. Singh, one of the oldest members of the Assembly, delivered a speech criticizing the administration of Bihar run by Ex-Chief Minister Dr. S. K. Sinha, mentioning the instances of biasness and corruption. Although the Speaker raised objection over a part of the speech and ordered it to be expunged, the English daily newspaper i.e., ‘Searchlight’ published an article citing the entire speech including the expunged part.

As a result, on 10 June 1957, Mr. Nawal Kishore Sinha, a member of the Bihar legislative assembly objected to the published article under the inference of infringement of privilege. After the said instance, the petitioner was called in front of the Privilege Committee by the Secretary of the Bihar Legislative Assembly on 18 August 1958 to provide a reason for not taking an action against him for the Breach of Privilege.

Issues Raised

  1. Whether the Constitution of India empowers a State Legislative Assembly to prohibit the publication of a speech or proceedings which was witnessed or the expunged parts of it under Article 194(3)?
  2. Whether the privilege granted under Article 194(3) capable of suppressing the Fundamental Right of Free Speech and Expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution is available to every citizen?

Contentions of the Parties

Petitioner

Mr. M. S. M. Sharma, filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution providing contention for an inappropriate notice issued by the Privilege Committee which has condensed his Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression provided under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.

Respondent

The respondent was claiming the right to prohibit all publication of proceedings and argued it to be their right. He argued that the State Legislative Assembly can exercise similar powers, privileges, and immunities just as the British Parliament’s House of Commons. Therefore similarly, the order passed by the Assembly cannot be ignored considering it as a normal course of action and hence prohibits them from publishing the expunged parts too.

Decision issued by Majority: CJI Sudhi Rajan Das

While considering the First Issue in the case, the Court pondered that since there is no evidence of the existence of the statute enshrining the powers, privileges, immunities of the House under the Legislative Assembly of Bihar under the Entry 39, List II, and Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Hence the legislative assembly would also possess the powers and privilege as that of the House of Commons does at the starting of the Indian Constitution.

In addition to that, the Court issued a standing order stating that no member or a publication can publish the speech delivered in the House, taking into consideration that the House of Commons also imposes restrictions over the publication and communication of the print of its proceedings which has taken place in the House since 1641.

A law made by a State Legislature with regard to starting part of Article 194(3) will not be a law in the exercise of constituent power but will be in function of its onset legislative powers. Consequently, if such a law snatches away any of the fundamental rights of a citizen of India, it will be infringing the provisions of Article 13 and it will become void, that is why under the Principle of Harmonious Construction Article 19(1)(a) stands at a general position and Article 194(3) stands at a special position. Hence, the Court declared the Assembly’s order valid and dismissed the petition.

Decision of Dissent: Justice Subbarao

The dissenting opinion held by the Justice Subbarao quoted the case of Gunupati Keshavram Reddy V. Nafisal Hasan and raised the point that Article 194(3) is itself subject to Part III. However, it must be recognized that the before mentioned case was not a well-considered view on the very subject.

Comment

In this case, it is important to draw attention towards the fact that although the court held that Article 19(1)(a) does not override the legislative power granted under the Article 194(1) of the Constitution of India. Still, the question of the intervention of Article 21 remains as it is in this matter. The Court did not clarify whether Article 21 can be applied to privileges or not. They did not make any comment on the width of Article 21 which it covers.

Endnotes

  1. M.S.M. Sharma V. Krishna Singh, available at https://indiankanoon.org/doc/944601/.
  2. Gunupati Keshavram Reddy V. Nafisul Hasan (AIR 1954 SC 636), available at https://indiankanoon.org/doc/528695/ 

References

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