A view of Supreme Court of India | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR
The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked a seven-judge Bench to be constituted to decide whether MPs and MLAs who take bribes to cast their votes or deliver speeches in the House in a “particular manner” will enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution.
In focus are Articles 105(2) and 194(2) of the Constitution. Both constitutional provisions protect lawmakers from criminal or civil proceedings in any court “in respect of” anything they say or any vote they cast in Parliament or in the State Legislative Assemblies.
On Wednesday, a five-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud decided to refer to a larger Bench the court’s majority judgment in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) bribery case of 1998 — PV Narasimha Rao versus State — which had held that bribe takers were immune from prosecution provided they go ahead and cast their vote or give the speech, which is a parliamentary function.
‘Subverting anti-corruption law’
“There is an anomaly here. If a person (MP/MLA) accepts a bribe and votes, then there is immunity. If a person accepts the bribe and does not fulfill the bargain by abstaining from the vote or does not give the speech, he or she is liable to be punished,” Chief Justice Chandrachud pointed out.
Senior advocate PS Patwalia, who is the court’s amicus curiae In the case, and senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, for an intervenor, said that the judgment turned the anti-corruption law “on its head”.
Chief Justice Chandrachud said that he would constitute a seven-judge Bench urgently within a week or two.
During the hearing, the five-judge Bench prima facie leaned more in favor of the minority judgment in the JMM bribery case, which had opined that the immunity to legislators under Articles 105(2) and 194(2) of the Constitution did not extend to the act of taking bribes to make speeches or cast votes.
‘Purpose of immunity’
“The purpose of these Articles is to ensure that MPs/MLAs are able to discharge their duties in an atmosphere of freedom without fear of consequences that may follow in the manner in which they speak or exercise their vote on the floor of the House… The The objective of the immunity is not to set apart MPs/MLAs as members of the legislature who worked higher privileges in terms of the application of the general criminal law of the land which other citizens do not possess,” Chief Justice Chandrachud observed.
The legal question came up during an appeal filed by JMM leader Sita Soren, who was accused of taking a bribe to vote for a particular candidate in the Rajya Sabha election of 2012. She claimed immunity even as the CBI filed a chargesheet. The Jharkhand High Court refused to accept her plea of immunity, following which she had moved the top court.