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New Delhi:

Lawmakers in parliament and state legislatures are not immune from prosecution in bribery cases, the Supreme Court said today in a landmark verdict by a seven-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud.

The verdict set aside a 1998 judgment in which a five-member Constitution bench had upheld the immunity for lawmakers in cases where MPs or MLAs take bribes for a speech or a vote in the House.

Bribery, the court said, is not protected by parliamentary privileges and the interpretation of the 1998 verdict is contrary to Articles 105 and 194 of the Constitution. These two Articles provide elected representatives legal immunity from prosecution to enable them to work without fear.

“We disagree with the judgment in PV Narasimha (case). The judgment in that case which granted immunity to legislators for taking bribes to cast votes has wide ramifications,” the Chief Justice of India said.

The PV Narasimha Rao case had come up in connection with a no-confidence motion against his government in July 1993. The minority government had survived with a slim margin – 265 votes in favour and 251 against.

A year later, however, a scandal emerged and allegations surfaced that legislators of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha had taken bribes to vote in support of the PV Narasimha Rao government. In 1998, the Supreme Court held that the lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution extended to their votes and speeches inside the House.

The court today said a claim for immunity in such situations fails to pass the test of being necessary to discharge legislative functions.

“We hold that bribery is not protected by Parliamentary privileges. Corruption and bribery by legislators destroy the functioning of Indian Parliamentary democracy. An MLA taking a bribe to vote in Rajya Sabha elections is also liable under the Prevention of Corruption Act,” the bench said.

The PV Narasimha judgment, the Chief Justice said, results in a “paradoxical situation” in which a legislator who accepts a bribe and votes accordingly is protected whereas a legislator who votes independently despite taking a bribe is prosecuted.

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