Monday, April 15, 2024

Parliamentary immunity A tale of contradictory Supreme Court verdicts

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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.
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