Parliamentary Privileges cannot be extended to the MPs/MLAs taking Bribe for Vote/Speech in Legislature: Supreme Court

Case Title – Sita Soren vs Union of India

Case No. – Criminal Appeal No. 451 of 2019

Decided On – March 04, 2024

Quoram – Chief Justice of India Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, Justice A.S. Bopanna, Justice M.M. Sundresh, Justice Pamidighantam Sri Narasimha, Justice J.B. Pardiwala, Justice Sanjay Kumar, Justice Manoj Mishra

The issue involved in this case was whether a legislator, who receives a bribe to cast a vote in a certain direction or speak about certain issues, is protected by parliamentary privileges. The Court also delved into the Constitutional interpretation of Article 105 and Article 194.

In the case of Sita Soren vs Union of India, the appellant Sita Soren preferred a Criminal Appeal against the judgment of the High Court of Jharkhand.

Background of the case – The appellant, belonging to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, JMM was a member of the Legislative Assembly of Jharkhand. It was alleged that the appellant accepted a bribe from an independent candidate to cast a vote in his favour. The open balloting held for the Rajya Sabha seat revealed that the she did not cast her vote in favour of the alleged bribe giver but instead voted in favour of a candidate belonging to her own party.

The Charge-sheet was filed and Criminal proceedings of bribery were instigated against the appellant. She moved the High Court to quash the same. The appellant claimed protection under Article 194(2) of the Constitution, relying on the judgment of the Constitution bench of Supreme Court in PV Narasimha Rao v. State. The High Court declined to quash the criminal proceedings.

Subsequently, the matter was passed over to a five judge bench as the lower benches felt that this matter was of great public importance and revolved around the question dealt in the PV Narasimha Rao which ought to be adjudicated by a competent bench.

Finally, a five-judge bench recorded prima facie reasons doubting the correctness of the decision in PV Narasimha Rao and referred the matter to a larger bench of seven judges.

Legal Provisions

Article 105(2) – Powers, privileges, etc., of the Houses of Parliament and of the members and committees thereof

Article 194(2) – Powers, privileges, etc., of the Houses of Legislatures and of the members and committees thereof

Overview of P V Narasimha Rao Judgement

After general elections to the tenth Lok Sabha in 1991, Congress (I) emerged as a single largest party with P V Narasimha Rao as its Prime Minister. However, a motion no confidence motion was instituted against the government.

A complaint was filed with the CBI, alleging that Narasimha Rao and several other MPs were parties to the criminal conspiracy and passed on “several lakhs of rupees” to the alleged bribe-takers (the members belonging to the JMM and the JD (Ajith Sing) to defeat the no-confidence motion.

A prosecution was instituted against the alleged bribe-givers and bribe-takers. The accused moved the High Court to quash the criminal charges. But, when the HC dismissed there petition, the accused further appealed before the Apex Court. The question before the Court was whether an MP can claim protection under Article 105 for the charges of bribery.

Three opinions were rendered in the matter- one by Justices Agrawal and Anand, second by Justices Bharucha and Babu and third by Justice Ray.

Justice Bharucha held that the alleged bribe-takers who cast their vote against the no-confidence motion enjoyed immunity from prosecution in a court of law under Article 105(2) of the Constitution. However, Ajit Singh (now deceased) who had abstained from voting, and the alleged bribe-givers could not to enjoy the same immunity.

On the interpretation of Article 105(2), Justice Ray concurred with the judgment of Bharucha. Hence, the opinion authored by Justice Bharucha on the interpretation of Article 105(2) represented the view of the majority of three judges of this Court.

However, Justice Agarwal, in a minority view, held that neither the alleged bribe-takers nor the alleged bribe-givers enjoyed the protection of Article 105(2). Justice Agarwal, thus, held the object of the immunity under Article 105(2) is to ensure the independence of legislators for the healthy functioning of parliamentary democracy.

 Submissions on behalf of the accused appellant

Mr Raju Ramachandran, senior counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant submitted that the judgment of the majority in PV Narasimha Rao is squarely applicable to the present case. He contended that the offence of bribery in criminal law is complete when the bribe is given and performance in consonance of the same should not be a criterion to claim constitutional immunity under Articles 105(2).

He submitted that it is unwarranted to overrule the long-settled law in PV Narasimha Rao case according to the tests laid down by this court.

The counsel submitted that the voting in the Rajya Sabha Elections is within the scope of protection of Article 194(2) and hence, narrowing down the parliamentary immunity would enhance the possibility of abuse of the law by political parties in power.

Submissions on behalf of the intervenors

Mr. Venkataramani, Attorney General for India submitted that the correctness of PV Narasimha Rao is inapplicable to the instant case as an election to the Rajya Sabha does not fall within the ambit of Article 194(2).

Mr P S Patwalia, amicus curiae has submitted that the majority judgment must be reconsidered, and the view of the minority reflects the correct position of law. Mr Gopal Sankarnarayan, senior counsel also endorsed the view taken by the amicus curiae.

Court’s Observation and Analysis

The Bench, after citing the history and purport of parliamentary privileges, held that the legislators cannot claim privileges that are not essentially related to their functioning.

The Court pointed out that the doctrine of stare decisis is not an inflexible rule of law. A larger bench of this Court may reconsider a previous decision in appropriate cases, bearing in mind the tests which have been formulated in the precedents of this Court.

It ruled that the assertion of a privilege by an individual member of the Parliament or legislature would be governed by a two-fold test. First, the privilege claimed has to be tethered to the collective functioning of the House, and second, its necessity must bear a functional relationship to the discharge of the essential duties of a legislator.

The bench further addressed the main issue i.e. whether the privileges afford immunity to a legislator who engages in bribery in connection with their speech or vote. It ruled that Clause (2) of Article 105 does not grant immunity against bribery to any person as the receipt of or agreement to receive illegal gratification is not “in respect of” the function of a member to speak or vote in the House.

The Court pointed out that the Corruption and bribery of members of the legislature erode the foundation of Indian parliamentary democracy and further, deprives citizens of a responsible, responsive and representative democracy.

The Court ruled that the offence of bribery is independent of the performance of the agreed action and solidifies on the exchange of illegal gratification. Hence, the offence of bribery is complete at the point in time when the legislator accepts the bribe.

The Bench addressing the paradoxical outcomes in P.V. Narasimha Rao case noted that such decision erroneously links the offence of bribery to the performance of the act. Hence, the court held that such interpretation is contrary to the text and purpose of Articles 105 and 194.

 Elections to Rajya Sabha are within the ambit of Article 194(2)

The bench opined that the vote for such elections is given in the legislature or the Parliament, which is sufficient to invoke the protection under Articles 105(2) and 194(2). The Court thus covering the Rajya Sabha elections under Article 194(2) held that such processes are significant to the functioning of the parliamentary democracy.


The Apex Court held that by virtue of Articles 105 and 194 of the Constitution a Member of Parliament or the Legislative Assembly, as the case may be, cannot claim immunity from prosecution on a charge of bribery in a Criminal Court.

It thus held Articles 105 and 194 of the Constitution seek to sustain an environment in which debate and deliberation can take place within the legislature. This purpose is destroyed when a member is induced to vote or speak in a certain manner because of an act of bribery.


The ruling sets a legal precedence in the realm of parliamentary privileges. It sets clear boundaries for the operation of parliamentary privileges. The analysis of the instant case reveals that extending the parliamentary privileges to the matters relating to bribery, would afford others to misuse/influence the office the legislator and violates the basic purpose of Articles 105 and 194. It is not mere bribing of their vote or speech, but rather, the bribing of their position as a member of parliament/legislature, which holds a high value in the public. The Supreme Court’s decision thus not only resolves a long-standing legal controversy but also shapes the framework for dealing with the privileges under Articles 105 and 194.

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Judgement Reviewed by – Keerthi K

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