PV NARASIMHA RAO v. State | JMM BRIBERY CASE
Privilege means a special right, advantage or immunity available or granted to a particular person or a group of people. Parliamentary privilege is such a privilege or legal right enjoyed by the members of the Houses of the Parliament and their committees, including the Attorney General and Union Ministers. The Constitution of India provides the sanction of these privileges in two provisions, that is, Article 105 which is made subject to the provisions of the Central Legislative and Article 194 which addresses to the State Legislature. In brief, the immunities granted under Article 105 to the parliamentarians and their committees include freedom of speech, immunity from arrest from civil and criminal proceedings and publication of proceedings through electronic and print media. It is important to note that the President, though being the part of the Parliament does not enjoy these privileges, since certain protection has been already provided to the President under Article 361 the Constitution. The main objective of these privileges is to uphold the supremacy and protect the parliamentary democracy of the Parliament and its members. PV Narasimha Rao v. State, popularly known as the JMM bribery case, is the case where the Supreme Court considered the implication of these privileges. This case is known to be one of the most controversial cases of India because of the set of interesting facts and a judgement that astonished everyone.
In 1991 election to the Lok Sabha, Congress (I) Party remaining fourteen members short of the majority, it formed a minority Government with P.V. Narasimha Rao as the Prime Minister. Later, the party had to face no-confidence against it which it somehow managed to defeat. The party, however, managed to collect the support of 265 members against 251, to which Mr, Ravinder Kumar of Rashtriya Mukti Morcha suspected to be a case of bribery. Mr Ravinder Kumar filed an FIR complaint with the CBI alleging certain members of the Parliament belonging to Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and certain other members of the alliance of criminal conspiracy and bribery for gaining a majority in order to defeat the no-confidence motion passed against them. Criminal prosecution was then launched against the members involved in bribe-taking and bribe giving under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and under Section 120-B of the Indian Penal Code.
What is a no-confidence motion? A party can remain in power only when it shows its strength through a floor test, known as the “no-confidence motion”, which is primarily taken to know whether the executive enjoys the confidence of the legislature. A government can function when it has this majority support in the Lok Sabha. This motion can be passed by any member of the parliament without needing to give a reason for moving the motion.
1. Whether Article 105 confer ant kind of immunity on a Member of Parliament from being prosecuted in a criminal court for an offence involving offer or acceptance of a bribe?
2. Whether a Member of Parliament can be excluded from the ambit of Section 2 (c) Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 as they are cannot be regarded as a “public servant” and since there is no authority to grant sanction for his prosecution under the 1988 Act, they can they be comprehended in clauses (a), (b) and (c) of sub-section (1) of Section 19 of the act?
The petition was then filed petitions at Delhi High Court for quashing the criminal proceedings. The High Court dismissed the petitions saying that the parliamentarians have exercised their voting functions using their Parliamentary Privileges. By the way of special leave petition, under Article 136 of the Indian Constitution, the appeal was made to the Supreme Court of India and upon the reference of the case to a Constitution Bench.
Article 136 of the Indian Constitution vests the Supreme Court of India with a special power to grant special leave against any judgement passed in any of the lower courts or tribunals in India.
The persons sought to be charged the High Court at Delhi dismissed the petitions. On presentation of appeals by way of special leave, the Court formulated for decision these questions:
By a majority of three to two, the Constitution Bench answered the first issue in affirmative except in the case of Mr Ajit Singh (A- 15). Unlike other accused parliamentarians, Mr Ajit Singh cast his vote on the no-confidence motion. The Supreme Court found no nexus between the bribe and the vote. As he did not use his Parliamentary Privilege, he was not granted the immunity provided under Article 105 (2).
Answering the second issue, the Supreme Court held that the Member of Parliament is a “public servant” and falls under the purview of Section 2(c) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. It also stated that since there is no authority that can grant sanction for prosecution of the offending persons for certain offences for such offences, they cannot be tried under the in clauses (a), (b) and (c) of sub-section (1) of Section 19 of the 1988 Act.
The Supreme Court considered the implication of Article 105 (2) and by the majority of 3 to 2 it was held that the act of taking bribery by a Member of Parliament is in the respect of “the right to vote” immunity conferred to them by the Parliament. This immunity is only granted to a member when such acts mentioned under Article 105 are done in the parliamentary proceedings and within the four walls of the parliament. The constitution is an organic document and the court while taking the decision of the JMM bribery case should have been looked at the functioning of the Constitution as a whole as the privilege of the “right to vote” provided to the parliamentarians should be provided in a bona fide manner. The object of the provision of immunity is to ensure healthy functioning of the system of democracy and if the parliamentarians can claim the immunity from prosecution for an offence of bribery then it would only be repugnant to the healthy functioning of the system.