Supreme Court ends immunity for legislators taking bribes 

GS Paper II

News Excerpt:

Recently, The Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers cannot claim immunity from prosecution in bribery cases.

Key points:

  • In a significant move, the Supreme Court ruled that Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) cannot claim immunity from prosecution in cases of bribery for votes or speeches in the House.
  • A seven-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) D.Y. Chandrachud unanimously overruled its 1998 judgment in P.V Narasimha Rao v. State and opened the doors for law enforcement agencies to initiate prosecution against legislators in bribery cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (Act).

The SC verdict:

  • "Bribery is not protected by parliamentary privileges," the seven-judge Constitution bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, said in a landmark verdict.
  • The SC stated that, corruption and bribery is destructive of the aspirations and deliberative ideals of the Constitution and creates a polity which deprives citizens of a responsible, responsive, and representative democracy.
    • This verdict is significant in addressing the challenge of cash-for-votes trading and safeguarding the integrity of electoral mandates.
  • The recent verdict by the apex court overturns the 1998 judgment in the PV Narasimha Rao case.
    • In the PV Narasimha Rao case, allegations had arisen that legislators of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha had accepted bribes to vote in favour of the government during a no-confidence motion in 1993.
      • In this case, The Supreme Court had ruled with a 3:2 majority that MPs and MLAs were immune from prosecution in bribery cases as long as they fulfilled their end of the bargain.
  • The Court also clarified that the principles enunciated by the verdict regarding legislative privileges will apply equally to elections to the Rajya Sabha and to appoint the President and Vice-President of the country. 
    • Accordingly, it overruled the observations in Kuldip Nayar v. Union of India (2006), which held that elections to the Rajya Sabha are not proceedings of the legislature but a mere exercise of franchise and therefore fall outside the ambit of parliamentary privileges under Article 194.

'Articles' deal with the powers and privileges of MPs and MLAs

  • Articles 105 and 194 of the Constitution, deal with the powers and privileges of MPs and MLAs in the Parliament and the legislative assemblies.
    • Clause (2) of Article 105 has two limbs. 
      • The first prescribes that a member of Parliament shall not be liable before any court in respect of “anything said or any vote given” by them in Parliament or any committee thereof. 
      • The second limb prescribes that no person shall be liable before any court “in respect of” the publication by or under the authority of either House of Parliament of any report, paper, vote or proceedings. 
    • They grant them freedom of speech and protect them from being prosecuted for their remarks in the House or any vote they may participate in.
  • The legal shield provided to lawmakers under these articles protects them from prosecution. 
  • These provisions were put in place to ensure that MPs and MLAs can work without the fear of legal action being taken against them.

Seven-judge bench's remark on the 1998 judgment:

  • The seven-judge bench stated that the 1998 majority verdict has "wide ramifications on public interest, probity in public life and parliamentary democracy".
  • An individual member of the legislature cannot assert a claim of privilege to seek immunity under Articles 105 and 194 from prosecution on a charge of bribery in connection with a vote or speech in the legislature.
  • The recent judgment highlights that accepting a bribe is a separate crime that is not linked to the actions or words of a lawmaker within the Parliament or legislative assembly. 
    • Therefore, the immunity provided under Articles 105 and 194 does not extend to cases of bribery, as these do not pertain to the duties of lawmakers.
  • According to SC, Bribery is not rendered immune under Article 105(2) and the corresponding provision of Article 194 because a member engaging in bribery commits a crime which is not essential to the casting of the vote or the ability to decide on how the vote should be cast. 
    • The same principle applies to bribery in connection with a speech in the House or a committee.
  • The court cautioned that granting such protection would create a group of individuals who enjoy unregulated exemption from the law. 
    • It emphasized that corruption and bribery by legislators have the potential to undermine the functioning of Indian parliamentary democracy.

Offence of bribery:

  • The Court emphasised that the offence of bribery is complete at the point in time when the legislator accepts the bribe, whether or not it is followed up by voting or making a speech in the manner wanted by the giver of the bribe. Equally, the place where the bribe was offered or received did not matter.
  • The verdict further asserted that the first explanation strengthens such an interpretation since it expressly states that the “obtaining, accepting, or attempting” to obtain an undue advantage shall itself constitute an offence even if the performance of a public duty by a public servant has not been improper.

Previous Cases related to cash for vote:

Indian history has been evidence of cash-for-vote scandals that created quite a big buzz in 2008 and 2015. 

  • 2008-cash-for-vote scandal
    • The 2008-cash-for-votes scandal was an Indian political scandal where one party allegedly bribed other parties MPs to secure a confidence vote on July 22, 2008. 
    • The vote in the Lok Sabha came after the CPI (M)-led Left Front withdrew support from the government over the Indo-US nuclear deal.
  • 2015-cash-for-votes scandal
    • The 2015 cash-for-votes scandal in India was a political scandal that followed a similar scandal in 2008. 
    • The scandal involved leaders of TDP in Telangana state who were caught on video offering bribes to a nominated MLA in exchange for his vote in the 2015 elections of the Telangana Legislative Council. 


Cash for vote and other bribery incidents are one of bigger issues in parliamentary functions.The recent judgement of the supreme court to stop bribery will help in strengthening the democracy and parliamentary process. 


Book A Free Counseling Session