NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it will not restrict the immunity and privileges enjoyed by MPs and MLAs for ‘anything said or vote cast’ in Parliament or assembly but will revisit the 25-year-old PV Narasimha Rao ruling to see whether the shield available to lawmakers under Articles 105 (2) and 194 (2) of the Constitution extends to those who are engaged in “cash-for-vote” corruption.
“We will not revisit the issue of immunity and privileges of the MPs and MLAs… The whole purpose of conferring immunity from prosecution for anything said or any vote cast in Parliament/assembly was to encourage free speech and an unrestrained dialogue. That we must preserve. It is an important part of our nation,” said a bench of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices A S Bopanna, M M Sundresh, P S Narasimha, J B Pardiwala, Sanjay Kumar and Manoj Misra.
However, they agreed to examine afresh whether the safeguards afforded through Articles 105 (2) and 194 (2) to help the legislators discharge their functions without the fear of prosecution should extend to those MPs/MLAs who take bribe.

Significantly, the CJI allotted just two days for completion of arguments in the review of the controversial ruling of 1998. The time-frame makes it one of the shortest proceedings before a 7-judge bench. In general, such benches dealing with complex issues take weeks to conclude proceedings.
The writing appeared to be on the wall as to what could be the outcome of the two-day exercise. Attorney general R Venkataramani, solicitor general Tushar Mehta, amicus curiae P S Patwalia and senior advocates Gopal Shankaranarayanan and Vijay Hansaria were on the same page – taking bribe is a separate and distinct offence unrelated to the immunity given to legislators inside the House for their speeches and casting of vote.

For erstwhile Jharkhand MLA Sita Soren, who faces a CBI probe for allegedly accepting a bribe for casting her vote in Rajya Sabha elections a decade back, senior advocate Raju Ramachandran ploughed a lone furrow, supporting the SC verdict in P V Narasimha Rao case. He said the long standing immunities and privileges for lawmakers, as upheld in a “well considered” ruling of the 5-judge bench, must not be tinkered with.
Mehta said the government supported the minority view expressed by Justice S C Agrawal who had expressed the view that taking bribes is a separate and distinct offence and that it had no correlation with the action of the legislators inside the House.
Venkataramani said the Union government cannot be seen to be arguing to condone bribery as an offence. He will elaborate his arguments on Thursday. Amicus P S Patwalia spoke to persuade the 7-judge bench to recast the Rao ruling to withdraw immunity from prosecution to the MPs and MLAs for any crime committed outside the House, even if it had a link with what he/she said or the vote cast.

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