SITA SOREN V/S UNION OF INDIA

An election was to be held to elect two members of the Rajya Sabha representing the state of Jharkhand the appellant here belonged to Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and was a member of the legislative assembly of Jharkhand. There were allegations against her regarding acceptance of a bribe to cast a vote in a candidate’s favor but despite that, she didn’t cast a vote in favor of that candidate instead voted for a candidate belonging to her party. Another fresh election was held where she again voted in favor of her candidate so to challenge the validity of the chargesheet made against her she moved to the High Court. The appellant claimed protection under article 194(2) and laid down the reference of the previously quoted judgment of  PV Narasimha Rao she was rejected by the high court on grounds that she didn’t cast a vote for the person in favor of whom she took a bribe its decision was primarily based on PV Narasimha Rao case judgment but after many controversies, the issue was placed finally before the seven-judge bench of Supreme court.  

ISSUES RAISED

A) Can any MP OR MLA enjoy immunity from criminal proceedings under art 105(2) and 194(2) of the constitution for accepting bribes to cast their vote in assembly? The fact that art105(2) of the constitution states that no member of parliament shall be held liable for anything said by him/any vote cast by him in due course of proceedings and Art 194(2) extends this privilege to members of state legislatures.  But accepting any illegal gratification for the exercise of that right would be beyond the scope of these articles? 

B) Is there any violation of the principle of the doctrine of stare decisis?

CONTENTION

The appellants wish immunity on grounds of the famous landmark judgment of PV Narasimha Rao which would immune them from any sort of criminal prosecution held against them for their actions on the floor of the house. Further from the side of the appellant, it was argued that the majority judgment was well reasoned and there shall be no grounds to reconsider the settled position of law. The overruling of such a judgment is unwarranted on the grounds of tests laid down by courts while overturning judicial precedents. The immunity has been given to MPs and MLAs to safeguard them from being oppressed, enabling freedom of complete speech and expression on the floor of parliament without any fear it also extends to their right to vote. So the question before the court remained that despite taking a bribe regarding his right to practice vote can a person can be immunized from criminal prosecution? 

RATIONALE

It was held that the object of articles 105(2) and 194(2) does not prime facie appear to render immunity from any sort of criminal proceedings for a matter that is recognized as a crime in the eyes of the law by any member of house/committee in due course of practicing their special rights. art105 and 194 seek to charge bribery in connection with his right to vote/speech as it can destroy the very purpose of such privileges.  No matter what the rights and exemptions are the taking of money/illegal gratification in exchange for giving a favorable vote would be ultra vires the privileges/immunities of members.

The court held that Parliamentary privileges are no gateways to claim exemptions from the general law of land, especially in this case the claim of exemption from the application of criminal law would betray the trust of citizens in elected representatives as makers and enactors of law. The privileges were not created to disturb the very polity of society. They shall not subside the law or what is considered an offense under the law. 

Even if the legislator claims immunity from any sort of prosecution it shall fulfill the necessity test 

 The expression anything or any when read in the context of articles 105 and 194 the words ‘in respect of’ means arising out they cannot be interpreted against something that has a remote connection with the speech of vote and right, something which is not in proximity with the right to vote and freedom of speech of members 

Also, the judgment of Justice SC Agarwal has dealt specifically with the completion of the offense of bribery. The offense of bribery is made against a person the moment he/she takes or promises to take money to act in a certain manner. The offense is complete the moment there is an illegal bargain, to prove the offense of bribery it is sufficient to prove that a person has taken or agrees to take money to act in a certain manner whether he acted in that manner or not is too far to look at. 

Also keeping in mind whether there was a violation of stare decisis where the doctrine states that the court should not slightly dissent from precedent the court contended that if any part is inconsistent with provisions of law or the effect of the decision would harm the public interest of people the court has the power to reconsider it.  however, consistent with the lines of the case court stated that the doctrine is flexible enough to rectify any error that can be against the general welfare of the public. It can without any doubt review its legal decision if it’s inconsistent with the lines of society. 

DEFECTS OF LAW 

There is no defect of law in the present circumstance now as the Supreme Court has emphasized the detrimental impact of bribery on democratic principles and governance The court highlighted that accepting a bribe is a separate act in itself having no nexus with the rights of members of houses/committees. The members can enjoy the special immunities but those immunities cannot be regarded to any act that is unrecognized in terms of legality in society. 

INFERENCES

Through the judgment, a new dimension has been explored. Where we get a more clear and wider interpretation of articles ensures parliamentary privileges in India although it must be noted that these privileges are not codified to enable their flexibility in practicing but their ambit can be understood through articles of constitution and precedents. Many precedents have been followed to understand the wide interpretation of parliamentary privileges (1) Art 105 and 194 would prevail over art19(1)(a). Whereas in matters of conflict art21 shall supersede art194(3) and 105(3). Parliament is not the sole judge of its privileges. The court supposedly has to confirm its consistency with the lines of the Constitution. (2) The Court has the authority to examine and jurisdiction to examine if a privilege asserted by the house (or even member by extension) accrues under the constitution further (3) the Courts are competent to scrutinize the exercise of privileges by the house. (4) Article 105 (2) infers immunity inter alia in respect of ‘anything said…….in parliament’ The word anything is wide enough and is equivalent to everything. But is this scope wide enough to include an act that can erode the very polity of society, the act that can grant immunity from criminal prosecution to a member who has allegedly taken a bribe against his right to cast a vote? 

 These special rights/ exemptions are quite wide covering different aspects like the right of parliament to regulate its procedure and conduct of its business. It can also punish members and orders for breach of privileges, imprisonment, or even suspension of its members. The fact that a body has been entitled to so many rights makes it a matter of utmost importance to understand the limitations that can be imposed on such unique rights. It becomes solely important to understand whether such rights are consistent with lines of society or not. Here the court clearly stated that just because a member has been granted any privilege on the floor of parliament does not mean he can engage in any morally unacceptable and legally unrecognized practices and then expect to be protected from any criminal proceedings.

(1) (1959) supp (1) SCR 806

(2) (2007) 3 SCC 184

(3) (2010) 6 SCC 113

(4) (1970) 2 SCC 272

NAME – MANYA BHATIA 

COLLEGE NAME – VIVEKANANDA INSTITUTE OF PROFESSIONAL STUDIES