Updated March 4th, 2024 at 11:52 IST

Bribes-For-Votes: No Immunity to MPs/MLAs, Says SC; Overrules 1998 Narsimha Rao Judgement

The SC's seven-judge bench in its unanimous view overruled the 1998 PV Narasimha Roa judgment case

Reported by: Digital Desk
File Photo of Supreme Court | Image:ANI/File
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New Delhi: In a landmark judgement, a seven-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that an MP or MLA can't claim immunity from prosecution on a charge of bribery in connection with the vote/speech in the Parliament/ Legislative Assembly. The apex court's seven-judge bench in its unanimous view overruled the 1998 PV Narasimha Roa judgment case which granted immunity to MPs/MLAs from prosecution to bribery for voting in Parliament. 

“We disagree with the judgment in PV Narasimha which grants immunity to legislators for alleged bribery for casting a vote or speech has wide ramifications and overruled.  Such a claim for immunity fails to fulfil to the test whether such immunity is necessary to discharge legislative functions”, the top court observed.

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The apex court remarked that corruption and bribery by legislators destroy the functioning of Indian Parliamentary democracy. “Bribery is not protected by parliamentary privileges and the interpretation of the 1998 verdict is contrary to Articles 105 and 194 of the Constitution”, the SC stated.

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Bribes-for-votes: Five key observations of the Supreme Court judgment 

  • Bribery is not rendered immune under Articles 105 or 194 because a member engaging in bribery indulges in a criminal act which is not essential for the function of casting a vote or giving a speech in the legislature.
  • PV Narasimha judgment results in a paradoxical situation where a legislator, who accepts a bribe and votes accordingly is protected whereas a legislator, who despite taking a bribe votes independently is prosecuted.
  • Corruption and bribery by members of the legislatures erode probity in public life
  • Corruption and bribery of members of the legislature erode the foundation of Indian parliamentary democracy.
  • It is disruptive of the aspirations and deliberative ideals of the Constitution and creates a polity which deprives citizens of a responsible, responsive, and representative democracy.   

In 1998, a five-judge constitution bench had, in its majority verdict delivered in the PV Narasimha Rao versus CBI case, held that parliamentarians have immunity against criminal prosecution for any speech made and vote cast inside the House under Article 105(2) and Article 194(2) of the Constitution.

The issue came under the Supreme Court’s lens again in 2019, when a bench headed by then chief justice Ranjan Gogoi was hearing an appeal filed by Sita Soren, JMM MLA from Jama and daughter-in-law of party chief Shibu Soren, who was an accused in the JMM bribery scandal.

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The Justice Gogoi-led bench had referred to a five-judge bench the crucial question, noting it had “wide ramification” and was of “substantial public importance”.

Sita Soren was accused of taking bribes to vote for a particular candidate in the Rajya Sabha election in 2012. She had contended that the constitutional provision granting lawmakers immunity from prosecution, which saw her father-in-law being let off the hook in the JMM bribery scandal, be applied to her.

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She had moved the apex court against the Jharkhand High Court order of February 17, 2014 refusing to quash the criminal case lodged against her.

The three-judge bench had then said it would revisit the SC verdict in the sensational JMM bribery case involving Shibu Soren, a former Jharkhand chief minister and ex-union minister, and four other party MPs who had accepted bribes to vote against the no-confidence motion threatening the survival of the P V Narasimha Rao government in 1993.

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The Narasimha Rao government, which was in a minority, survived the no-confidence vote with their support.

The CBI registered a case against Soren and four other JMM Lok Sabha MPs but the Supreme Court quashed it citing immunity from prosecution they enjoyed under Article 105(2) of the Constitution.

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Published March 4th, 2024 at 10:56 IST