Bribes for votes case - SC says MLAs and MPs not immune from prosecution


09:46 PM

1 min read

What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in news?
  • Privileges and Immunities to the MPs and MLAs
  • Background of the present case
  • News Summary: Bribes for votes case
  • Key highlights of the current judgement

Why in news?

  • A seven-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court said that Members of Parliament and state legislatures who take bribes to vote or speak in a certain manner in the House are not immune from prosecution.
  • With this judgement, the apex court has overruled its 1998 judgment (JMM bribery case) which granted immunity to such lawmakers.

Privileges and Immunities to the MPs and MLAs

  • Meaning: Privileges are special rights, immunities and exemptions enjoyed by the two Houses of Parliament and legislature of States, and their committees and their members.
    • The Constitution has also extended these privileges to those persons who are entitled to speak and take part in the proceedings of a House or any of its committees.
    • For example, the Attorney General of India.
  • Constitutional provisions: Article 105 and Article 194 to the Constitution of India grant privileges or advantages to the MPs (Article 105) and to the MLAs (Article 194) of every State.
    • These powers, privileges and immunities should be defined by the law from time-to-time.
    • These privileges are considered as special provisions and have an overriding effect in conflict.
    • It must be clarified here that these privileges do not extend to the President (or Governor) who is also an integral part of the Parliament (or state legislature).
  • Privileges mentioned in the Constitution:
    • It gives the MPs freedom of speech [Article 115 (1)].
    • It provides that no MP will be liable to any proceedings before any Court for anything said or any vote given by him/her in the Parliament or any committee thereof [Article 105(2)].
      • Also, no person will be held liable for any publication of any report, paper, votes or proceedings if the publication is made by the parliament or any authority under it.
    • The same provisions are stated under Article 194, where MLAs of a state are referred instead of MPs.
  • Purpose: These privileges and immunities -
    • Are granted so that MPs/MLAs can perform their duties or can function properly without any hindrances - essential for democratic functioning of the legislatures.
    • Without these privileges,
      • The Houses can neither maintain their authority, dignity and honour.
      • Nor can protect their members from any obstruction in the discharge of their parliamentary responsibilities.
  • Difference between Article 19 and Article 105:
    • Both the Articles, (Article 19(1)(a) and Article 105) of the Constitution talks about freedom of speech.
    • Article 105 applies to the members of parliament not subjected to any reasonable restriction. But, Article 19(1)(a) applies to citizens and is subject to reasonable restrictions.
    • This means, Article 105 is an absolute privilege given to the members of the parliament but this privilege can be used in the premises of the parliament and not outside the parliament.

Background of the present case

  • 1998 P.V. Narsimha Rao Case
  • In 1993, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader Shibu Soren and some of his party MPs were accused of taking bribes to vote against the no-confidence motion against the then P V Narasimha Rao government.
  • The apex court (by a 3:2 majority) granted immunity from prosecution to MPs who took bribes and voted to save the then Congress government in Parliament.
  • The SC held that legislators enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution for bribery in matters connected to their speech and votes in Parliament and Legislative Assemblies.
  • Matter reached Supreme Court again
    • An MLA from the JMM, Sita Soren, was accused of accepting a bribe in return for her vote for a candidate during the 2012 Rajya Sabha elections.
    • She moved the Jharkhand HC for quashing the chargesheet and criminal proceedings against her, relying on the provisions of Article 194 (2), but the HC had declined to do so.
    • As a result, she appealed in the Supreme Court
  • 1998 Judgement referred to larger bench
    • In March 2019, SC observed that the decision in P.V. Narasimha dealt directly with such cases.
    • However, the bench took note of the fact that the case was decided by a narrow margin (a 3:2 split among the five judges) and stated that the issue was a matter of substantial public importance.
    • As a result, they referred the matter to a larger bench.
    • In September 2023, a five-judge bench led by CJI Chandrachud demarcated three issues that needed to be reconsidered from the case and referred the case to a seven-judge bench.

News Summary: Bribes for votes case

Key highlights of the current judgement

  • No immunity on the charges of accepting bribe
    • An individual member of the legislature cannot assert a claim of privilege to seek immunity under Articles 105 and 194 from prosecution on a charge of bribery in connection with a vote or speech in the legislature.
  • Accepting bribes do not pertain to the duties of lawmakers
    • Accepting a bribe is a separate crime that is not linked to the actions or words of a lawmaker within the Parliament or legislative assembly.
    • Therefore, the immunity provided under Articles 105 and 194 does not extend to cases of bribery, as these do not pertain to the duties of lawmakers.
  • Threat to the functioning of Indian parliamentary democracy
    • The court cautioned that granting such protection would create a group of individuals who enjoy unregulated exemption from the law.
    • It emphasized that corruption and bribery by legislators have the potential to undermine the functioning of Indian parliamentary democracy.
    • Such a claim to immunity fails to fulfill the two-fold test:
      • that the claim is tethered to the collective functioning of the House and
      • that it is necessary to the discharge of the essential duties of a legislator.
  • On the question of when the offence of bribery is considered as complete
    • The court stated that the bribery is considered complete once the offer or agreement to bribe is made, regardless of whether the vote is cast in the agreed direction or if the vote is cast at all.

Q1) What is the main function of Attorney General of India?

Article 76(2) of the Constitution says “it shall be the duty of the Attorney-General to give advice to the Government of India upon such legal matters, and to perform such other duties of a legal character, as may from time to time be referred or assigned to him by the President”.

Q2) What are the six fundamental rights under Article 19?

 Article 19 of the Indian constitution mentions six freedoms that are available to the citizens of India: (a) Freedom of speech and expression (b) Freedom to assemble peacefully and without arms (c) Freedom to form Associations and Unions (d) Freedom to move freely throughout the territory of India (e) Freedom to reside and settle in any part of India (f) Freedom to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

Source: Bribes for votes: SC says MLAs and MPs not immune from prosecution. What was the case? | Hindustan Times | Times Of India | Indian Express