Majority verdict in JMM bribery case was wrong, Centre tells SC
Twenty-five years after a Supreme Court Constitution Bench shielded MPs and MLAs who accept bribes to vote or make speeches in a certain way in the House from criminal prosecution, the Centre told a larger seven-judge Bench on Wednesday that the majority verdict in the infamous JMM bribery case was incorrect and that a lawmaker commits a crime the moment he accepts the bribe, whether or not he keeps his promise in the House.
What is the background behind the JMM Bribery case?
- The Political Landscape in 1993:
- In 1993, India was in the grip of a political crisis, and the ruling Congress party, led by Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, was in jeopardy.
- The Congress administration was a minority government that was trying to keep the support of numerous political parties and individual Members of Parliament (MPs).
- The Motion of No Confidence:
- A vote of no confidence (no-confidence motion) was initiated in the Indian Parliament to put the government’s strength to the test and potentially bring it down.
- A no-confidence motion is a major political event in which members of parliament express their dissatisfaction with the current administration.
- If the motion is successful, the government is usually expected to resign.
- Bribery allegations:
- During the no-confidence vote, there were suspicions that several MPs were bribed to vote in favour of the administration and defeat the no-confidence motion.
- Members of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) party, led by Shibu Soren, were accused of accepting bribes in exchange for their votes in support of the administration.
- Voting and Suspected Bribes:
- During the no-confidence vote, the JMM MPs were accused of accepting monetary inducements to vote in favour of the Congress government.
- These charges claimed that the government’s existence depended on these votes, which were reportedly obtained illegally.
What were the legal consequences of the issue?
- Supreme Court’s Role:
- The matter was subsequently heard by India’s Supreme Court for a legal ruling.
- The Supreme Court had to consider whether accepting bribes in exchange for votes by JMM MPs was covered by the immunity afforded under Article 105(2) or constituted a criminal violation.
- The Supreme Court’s ruling:
- The case was decided by the Supreme Court of India in the matter of P.V. Narasimha Rao v. State in 1998.
- The Supreme Court’s majority decision maintained that the JMM MPs were safe from punishment as long as they exercised their parliamentary duties by voting.
- This understanding of immunity was divisive and sparked heated debate.
What are the articles that provided immunity to the accused in the case?
- Article 105(2): This article deals with the immunity of Indian members of Parliament (MPs). It reads:
- “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.”
- The accused MPs in the JMM bribery case claimed immunity under Article 105(2) for their votes during the no-confidence motion.
- Article 194(2): Similar to Article 105(2), this provision addresses the immunity of members of State Legislatures (MLAs) in their respective states. It reads:
- “No member of the Legislature of a State shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in the Legislature or any committee thereof, and no person shall be so liable in respect of the publication by or under the authority of a House of such a Legislature of any report, paper, votes or proceedings.”
- The accused MPs in the JMM bribery case would have been protected by Article 194(2) if they had been members of a State Legislature rather than the Indian Parliament.
What are the implications of the ruling?
- Parliamentary Immunity Interpretation:
- The judgement clarified the scope of parliamentary immunity afforded to MPs and MLAs for their conduct, speeches, and votes within legislative bodies.
- It established that politicians are exempt from criminal prosecution for performing parliamentary tasks, including voting, even if their activities were influenced by monetary incentives.
- Potential for Misuse:
- One of the ruling’s major ramifications is the possibility of legislative abuse. It provided a legal loophole that politicians who participate in corrupt practices or accept bribes in exchange for their votes might use.
- Anti-Corruption Challenges:
- The verdict made anti-corruption measures in India more difficult. It allowed MPs to avoid prosecution for receiving bribes if they followed through on their parliamentary obligations.
- This complicated effort to tackle corruption in the political system while also maintaining transparency and accountability.
What is the recent update in the case?
- The Supreme Court referred the issue to a 7-judge bench because it recognized the necessity to reconsider the correctness of its prior constitutional bench judgement in the P.V. Narasimha Rao case in 1998.
- Articles 105(2) and 194(2) aim to preserve lawmakers’ freedom to execute their duties without fear of repercussions for their comments or votes. It is not intended to provide parliamentarians special treatment in terms of immunity from normal criminal law.
The JMM bribery case is notable in Indian legal and political history because of the legal precedent it established about MPs’ immunity for activities in Parliament, particularly in cases involving bribery claims.