Parliamentary immunity: A tale of contradictory SC verdicts


PTI, Mar 4, 2024, 7:10 PM IST

In the 2012 Rajya Sabha elections, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) legislator Sita Soren had accepted bribe to vote in favour of independent candidate R K Agarwal but did not vote for him, an act that triggered a CBI probe under the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Sita Soren, the daughter-in-law of JMM founder Shibu Soren, sought refuge in the Jharkhand High Court citing Article 194 (2) of the Constitution that grants immunity to legislators for whatever they speak or the votes they cast in the legislative assembly or committees.

Sita Soren also argued that as a JMM MLA, she had voted for the party candidate Sanjiv Kumar, who won the Rajya Sabha election.

In 2014, the Jharkhand High Court refused to quash the case filed against her by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), prompting her to move the Supreme Court.

In 2019, a three-judge Bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi referred the matter to a larger Bench, terming it ”a matter of substantial public importance” having ”wide ramifications”.

Cases of parliamentary immunity to members of Parliament and legislators were caught in two contradictory verdicts of the Constitution benches of the Supreme Court.

In 1998, a five-member Constitution Bench had held that parliamentarians and legislators enjoyed immunity for their actions on the floor of the House, even if they had taken bribes to vote in a particular manner.

Nine years later, another five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court ruled in the ”cash-for-query” scam, that involved parliamentarians accepting money to ask questions in Parliament, were liable to be expelled from Parliament permanently.

When Sita Soren’s case came before the Supreme Court in 2019, the three-member Bench led by the then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi referred the matter to a larger Bench.

At the core of the dispute was the issue of parliamentary privilege available to the legislature, lawmakers and parliamentary committees under Articles 105 and 194 of the Constitution.

According to Article 105(2): ”No member of Parliament shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any committee thereof, and no person shall be so liable in respect of the publication by or under the authority of either House of Parliament of any report, paper, votes or proceedings.” Article 194 is identically worded.

Parliamentary privilege is needed to provide complete freedom of speech to the lawmakers and to ensure that they are free to speak their mind without bothering about legal consequences of their statement and vote.

The Supreme Court verdict on Monday appears to have brought down the curtains on the contradictions.

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