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No immunity for MPs, MLAs taking bribe to vote, make speech in House: SC

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New Delhi: MPs and MLAs taking bribes to vote or make a speech in the House are not immune from prosecution, the Supreme Court said on Monday in a landmark, unanimous verdict that overrules its 1998 judgment protecting such lawmakers.

Observing that bribery is not protected by parliamentary privileges, a seven-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud held that a five-judge bench’s interpretation in the 1998 verdict in the JMM bribery case was contrary to Articles 105 and 194 of the Constitution.

Describing the judgment as “great”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a post on X that it would “ensure clean politics and deepen people’s faith in the system”.

Articles 105 and 194 deal with the powers and privileges of MPs and MLAs in the Parliament and the legislative assemblies.

“Corruption and bribery by members of the legislatures erode probity in public life,” the CJI, who read the operative part of the verdict, said while pronouncing the verdict today.

The bench also comprised Justices A S Bopanna, M M Sundresh, P S Narasimha, J B Pardiwala, Sanjay Kumar and Manoj Misra.

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

The seven-judge bench was reconsidering the 1998 judgement.

While pronouncing the verdict, the CJI said Article 105 of the Constitution seeks to sustain an environment to have deliberations by the lawmakers in the House and this atmosphere is vitiated when a member is bribed to deliver a speech.

Justice Chandrachud said the privileges claimed must have a nexus to the collective functioning of the House and must have a relationship with the essential functions of a legislator which he or she has to discharge.

The seven-judge bench had reserved its judgement in the matter on October 5 last year.

During the arguments, the Centre had submitted that bribery can never be a subject matter of immunity and a parliamentary privilege is not meant to place a lawmaker above law.

The top court, in the course of the hearing, had said it will examine whether the immunity granted to lawmakers from prosecution for taking bribes to make a speech or vote in Parliament and state legislatures extends to them even if criminality is attached to their actions.

On September 20, 2023, the apex court had agreed to reconsider its 1998 judgement, saying it was an important issue having a significant bearing on “morality of polity”.

The issue came under the apex court’s lens 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. She was an accused in the JMM bribery scandal.

The Gogoi-led bench had referred to a five-judge bench the matter, 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 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.

She 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 will revisit the apex court verdict in the 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.

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. (PTI)

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