P V Narasimha Rao Case: Bribery vs Parliamentary Privileges

Context: A 5-judge Constitution Bench, presided by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud, has referred the matter of Sita Soren Case to a larger 7-judge Bench that will assess the interpretation of Articles 105(2) and 194(2) of the Indian Constitution.

Sita Soren Case

She was accused of accepting a bribe to vote for an independent candidate in the 2012 Rajya Sabha elections.

  • Sita Soren, an MLA, allegedly took bribe to vote for one candidate but voted for another. 
  • A case was subsequently filed against Sita and the Jharkhand High Court in 2014 ruled that she is not immune from prosecution. 
  • She challenged the case in the Supreme Court and the matter came before a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court.  
  • In 2019, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court referred the matter to a five-judge bench.   
  • Now, in 2023, the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has referred the case to a larger bench that would finally re-examine whether lawmakers are immune from prosecution if they take bribe to cast a vote.

P V Narasimha Rao v. State (1998)

Historical Context 

  • The 10th Lok Sabha election, which was held in the year 1991, the congress party formed the government with P.V. Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister.
  • In July 1993 a ‘No Confidence Motion’ was moved against the existing government of P.V. Narasimha Rao.
  • The party somehow managed to defeat the motion with 251 members voting in favor of the motion and 265 voting against the motion.
  • After the motion got defeated the party once again came into power. 
  • But a person filed a complaint with the CBI wherein it was alleged that some members of parliament were bribed during the no-confidence motion in Lok Sabha.
  • The CBI, based on information received, registered a complaint under Section 13(2), Section 13(1) (d) (iii) of the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) against some members.
  • A criminal prosecution was launched against the bribe-taking and bribes giving members of the Parliament under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and Section 120-B of the Indian Penal Code. 

Issues raised in P V Narasimha Rao Case

  • Whether by virtue of Article 105 of the Constitution, a Member of Parliament can claim immunity from prosecution on a charge of bribery in a criminal court.
  • Whether a Member of Parliament is a “public servant” falling within the purview of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1986.

Judgement of Supreme Court in P V Narasimha Rao v. State (1998)

The majority of the Supreme Court held that MPs have immunity under Article 105(2), protecting them from criminal prosecution for actions taken within the parliamentary context. 

  • The Court held that the members are immune from any kind of proceedings against them in respect of any vote in the parliament.
  • The Court would have no jurisdiction to put any criminal liability on the accused persons as whatever allegedly happened was in respect of votes given by some of them in the Lok Sabha touched the privileges of the House within the meaning of clauses (2) and (3) of Article 195 of the Constitution.
  • Members of Lok Sabha hold no office and as such are not public servants within the meaning of Section 2(c) of the PCA and for that reason the PCA would not apply to the alleged acts of omission and commission of the accused persons.
  • Even if  it be  taken that Members of Lok Sabha do fall within Section  2(c) of PCA and are thus taken to be  public servants, yet the Act would not apply for the simple reason that in the case of Lok Sabha Members there is  no authority  competent to  remove them  from their office  within the meaning of Section 19(1)(c) of PCA.

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