SC reserves verdict on whether it can look into parliamentary panel report

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its order on the question whether the courts could look into and rely upon the report of the parliamentary committee for deciding an issue before them.

The five judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra reserved the order as Centre and drug company – MSD Pharmaceuticals – argued that the court can’t look at the report of the parliamentary standing committee for deciding an issue being adjudicated by it.

Both parties maintained that any reliance on the report of the parliamentary committee would impinge upon parliamentary privileges and the separation of powers under the constitution interdicts the court from looking into such reports.

“The carefully structured dividing lines between the judicial wing, the executive wing and the legislative wing of the State would be obliterated if it were asserted that notwithstanding the separation of powers between the three wings of the state, it will be necessary for the court to scrutinise or judicially review the reports of parliamentary committees for the effective and complete discharge of its functions,” Attorney General K.K. Venugopal had told the court.

The hearing that lasted for six days saw PIL petitioner Kalpana Mehta and other petitioner telling the court that it can look into the report of a parliamentary committee for deciding an issue being adjudicated by it.

Senior counsel Colin Gonsalves and Anand Grover, who appeared for the petitioners, cited the instances when top court had extensively relied on the parliamentary report while deciding an issue.

However, the bench also comprising Justice A.K. Sikri, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Ashok Bhushan said that when they were doing so, no one objected to it.

The issue before the constitution bench is rooted in a PIL by Mehta who had questioned the safety and efficacy of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines that is used for preventing cervical cancer.

She contended that the vaccineswas “unproven and hazardous”, and had said that the anomalies in its safety and efficacy were brought out by the various women groups and health groups from across the country that included a member of National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI).

The top court by its April 5, 2017 order had framed two questions to be addressed by the constitution bench – whether the top court in the hearing of a plea under Article 32 and Article 136 could “refer to and place reliance upon the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee?” and whether the report could be looked at for the purpose of reference.

The matter was referred to the constitution bench as drug company opposed the PIL petitioner referring to the 72nd report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in support of its contention.

The report, presented to Rajya Sabha on August 30, 2013, said that that there was a “serious dereliction of duty by many of the Institutions and individuals involved” and had observed that “ICMR representatives, instead of ensuring highest levels of ethical standards in research studies, apparently acted at the behest of the PATH in promoting the interests of manufacturers of the HPV Vaccine”.