In an important ruling, the Supreme Court of India ruled that the reports of the Parliamentary Standing Committee can be relied on during the court proceedings but added that these reports cannot be challenged in the courts because of parliamentary privilege.
“……a party can always establish his case on the materials on record and the Court can independently adjudicate the controversy without allowing a challenge to Parliamentary Standing Committee report. We think so as the Court has a constitutional duty to strike a delicate balance between the legislature and judiciary. It is more so when the issue does not involve a fundamental right that is affected by parliamentary action”, a Constitution Bench of the Court said in three concurring opinions.
The Court was hearing Public Interest Litigations wherein two vaccines – Gardasil and Cervarix – on tribal women in States of Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat respectively for treatment of cervical cancer were being administered without making them aware of the possible consequences of the same.
Petitioners alleged that Drug Controller General of India granted license for these vaccines without adequate research on their safety and efficacy and that the health ministry did not inquire into their licensing as sought by a parliamentary standing committee.
The Court, thus, concluded: –
i) Parliamentary Standing Committee report can be taken aid of for the purpose of interpretation of a statutory provision wherever it is so necessary and also it can be taken note of as existence of a historical fact.
(ii) Judicial notice can be taken of the Parliamentary Standing Committee report under Section 57(4) of the Evidence Act and it is admissible under Section 74 of the said Act.
(iii) In a litigation filed either under Article 32 or Article 136 of the Constitution of India, this Court can take on record the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee. However, the report cannot be impinged or challenged in a court of law.
(iv) Where the fact is contentious, the petitioner can always collect the facts from many a source and produce such facts by way of affidavits, and the Court can render its verdict by way of independent adjudication.
(v) The Parliamentary Standing Committee report being in the public domain can invite fair comments and criticism from the citizens as in such a situation, the citizens do not really comment upon any member of the Parliament to invite the hazard of violation of parliamentary privilege.