The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to reconsider a 25-year-old verdict by a five-judge bench to grant immunity from criminal prosecution to MPs and MLAs who take bribes to cast their votes or deliver speeches in the House in a “particular manner”, PTI reported.
A five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said that a seven-judge bench will examine “the correctness” of the verdict delivered in the 1998 PV Narasimha Rao versus State case.
The case deals with the interpretation of Articles 105(2) and 194(2) of the Constitution, which protect legislators from criminal or civil proceedings in any court for anything they say or any vote they cast in Parliament or in the State Legislative Assemblies.
The Supreme Court said it was an important matter that had a significant bearing on “morality of polity”, PTI reported.
“The object is not to set apart the members of the legislature as persons who wield higher privileges in terms of immunity of general law of the land which citizens of the land do not possess,” the five-judge bench said.
The 1998 case pertained to allegations that Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren and four other party MPs had accepted bribes to vote against a no-confidence motion against the PV Narasimha Rao government in 1993. The Narasimha Rao government, which was in a minority, survived the no-confidence vote with their support.
The Supreme Court had quashed the case registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation, citing the immunity under Article 105(2) of the Constitution.
On Wednesday, the court was hearing an appeal filed by Sita Soren, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MLA and daughter-in-law of Shibu Soren. She has been accused of taking a bribe to vote for an Independent candidate in Rajya Sabha elections in 2012.
The Jharkhand High Court had refused to accept her plea of immunity on February 17, 2014, following which she had approached the Supreme Court.
In March 2019, a three-judge bench headed by former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had referred the appeal to a five-judge bench, noting that it involved interpreting the 1998 verdict. The three-judge bench had said that the case had “wide ramification” and was of “substantial public importance”.
On Wednesday, Attorney General R Venkataramani said the Narasimha Rao case decision does not apply to Sita Soren as it has “nothing to do with the business of the House”.
“[Shibu] Soren had received a bribe for the no-confidence motion in Parliament,” the attorney general added.
However, the judges said that the court cannot miss an opportunity to straighten the law.