Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu has directed the Secretariat of the Upper House to promote awareness among the public about the procedures and functioning of the Ethics Committee of the House which oversees the conduct of the members and examines the complaints of unethical conduct to enable its effective functioning.
Chairman Naidu’s direction came after a review of the functioning of the Ethics Committee last week during which, it had come to his notice that 22 complaints against 19 members of Rajya Sabha during the last four years had to be returned by the Committee without examination since the complaints were not made in accordance with the prescribed procedure. Under Rule 295 of the ‘Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Council of States’, any person can make a complaint of unethical conduct against a member of the House in writing either to the Ethics Committee or an officer authorized by the Committee.
The Committee can also take up such matters suo moto. Under Rule 296, Ethics Committee may take up the complaints for preliminary inquiry, if it is made in proper form. Under Rule 303, Rajya Sabha Chairman may refer any question involving unethical conduct and other misconduct of a member to the Committee for examination, investigation and report.
The complaints against 19 members of Rajya Sabha belonging to eight major parties from both the ruling and opposition benches besides two independent members were not taken up for preliminary examination by the Ethics Committee as they were not directly addressed to the authorities mentioned in Rule 295. Of these 22 complaints, 13 were referred to the Rajya Sabha Secretariat by the Department of Personnel and Training, four each by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Lok Sabha Secretariat and one by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, on being addressed to them by the complainants.
Ethics Committee of Rajya Sabha, the first of it’s kind for legislatures in the country, was set up in 1997 to oversee the moral and ethical conduct of the members as internal self-regulatory mechanism, further to submission of a report by the N.N. Vohra Committee on declining standards in public life in 1995 which was discussed in both Houses of Parliament. The Committee in its first Report in 1998 formulated a 14 point Code of Conduct for the members which include – members not doing anything that brings disrepute to the Parliament and erodes the credibility, maintaining high standards of public morality, dignity, decency and values in public life, making private interest subordinate to the duty of public office in case of a conflict, not expecting or accepting any fee, remuneration or benefit for a vote given on the floor of the House, not misusing confidential information for private gain, not showing any disrespect for any religion.
Ethics Committee of Rajya Sabha has so far submitted ten reports.