The Supreme Court has referred a 1998 5-judge Constitution Bench judgement (in the P V Narasimha Rao case) to a 7-judge Bench due to its significant implications for the morality of the Indian polity. The 1998 judgement had ruled that legislators are immune from criminal prosecution on bribery charges related to their speeches or votes in Parliament.
GS II: Polity and Governance
Dimensions of the Article:
- Parliamentary Privileges and Immunities
- Judicial Interpretations of Parliamentary Privileges and Immunities
- Referring P V Narasimha Rao Case to a Larger Bench:
Parliamentary Privileges and Immunities:
- Privileges encompass special rights, immunities, and exemptions enjoyed by both Houses of Parliament, State legislatures, 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 Basis: These privileges are enshrined in Article 105 (for MPs) and Article 194 (for MLAs) of the Indian Constitution, and they also extend to individuals entitled to participate in parliamentary proceedings.
- Scope: These privileges must be defined by law and take precedence in cases of conflict. However, they do not apply to the President (or Governor) despite their integral role in the legislative process.
Privileges Outlined in the Constitution:
- Freedom of Speech: Article 105(1) grants MPs the freedom of speech, ensuring they can express themselves without fear of retribution within the parliamentary setting.
- Immunity from Legal Proceedings: Article 105(2) shields MPs from legal action in any court for statements made or votes cast during parliamentary proceedings. Similarly, Article 194 provides the same protections for MLAs.
- Publication Immunity: Both Articles also protect individuals from legal liability for the publication of parliamentary reports, papers, votes, or proceedings authorized by Parliament or its authorities.
Purpose of Privileges and Immunities:
- These privileges are essential for the unhindered performance of MPs’ and MLAs’ duties, ensuring the democratic functioning of legislative bodies.
- They enable these bodies to maintain their authority, dignity, and honor, safeguarding members from obstructions in fulfilling their parliamentary responsibilities.
Distinction Between Article 19 and Article 105:
- While both Article 19(1)(a) and Article 105 address freedom of speech, Article 105 provides MPs with an absolute privilege not subject to reasonable restrictions, but limited to parliamentary premises and proceedings.
- In contrast, Article 19(1)(a) applies to citizens and is subject to reasonable restrictions, extending beyond parliamentary boundaries.
Judicial Interpretations of Parliamentary Privileges and Immunities:
P.V. Narsimha Rao Case (1998):
- This case raised the question of whether Article 105(2) provides immunity to Members of Parliament (MPs) facing criminal charges.
- In a 3:2 majority decision, the Supreme Court granted immunity from prosecution (under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988) to MPs who received bribes and voted to support the then Congress government in Parliament.
- Recently, the Supreme Court referred this contentious judgment to a larger (7-judge) bench to determine whether MPs who accept bribes should be entitled to immunity under Article 105(2) regardless of whether they vote or not.
Keshava Singh Case (1965):
- In this case, the Court clarified that when it comes to privileges outlined in the Indian Constitution, the respective legislative house is the sole and exclusive judge.
- However, if a privilege is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, the Court has the authority to decide on its interpretation and application.
- These judicial interpretations help delineate the boundaries and scope of parliamentary privileges and immunities in India.
Referring P V Narasimha Rao Case to a Larger Bench:
- The P V Narasimha Rao case stems from the 1993 JMM bribery case, where Shibu Soren and some JMM MPs were accused of taking bribes to vote against a no-confidence motion against the P V Narasimha Rao government.
- The Supreme Court (SC) had previously quashed the case against the JMM MPs, citing immunity under Article 105(2).
- A similar issue arose in a case involving bribery charges against JMM MLA Sita Soren, who allegedly accepted a bribe to vote for an independent candidate in the 2012 Rajya Sabha elections.
- Sita Soren sought to have the chargesheet and criminal proceedings against her dismissed, relying on the provisions of Article 194(2). However, the Jharkhand High Court declined to do so.
- Subsequently, she approached the SC, where a 2-judge Bench in 2014 felt that the matter was of significant public importance and should be reviewed by a larger Bench of 3 judges.
- In 2019, a 3-judge Bench acknowledged that the SC had previously addressed the issue in the Narasimha Rao verdict, prompting the need for a larger Bench.
- A 5-judge Constitution Bench, led by the Chief Justice of India, recently decided to refer the matter to a larger Bench.
- This larger Bench will examine the correctness of the majority’s interpretation of Articles 105(2) and 194(2) of the Constitution.
- It’s important to note that the objective of Articles 105(2) and 194(2) is not to grant members of the Legislature immunity from general criminal laws.
-Source: The Hindu