MLA Bribery | Supreme Court holds “Bribery is not protected by parliamentary privilege”

Legislative Immunity for Lawmakers Facing Bribery Charges

Judges: D.Y. Chandrachud CJI, A.S. Bopanna J, M.M. Sundresh J, P.S. Narasimha J, J.B. Pardiwala J, P.V. Sanjay Kumar J, Manoj Misra J

Today, a seven-judge Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud unanimously held that lawmakers do not enjoy parliamentary immunity under Articles 105(2) and 194(2) for acts of bribery.

The Bench overruled the 3:2 Constitution Bench decision in P.V. Narasimha Rao v State (1998) which held that lawmakers enjoy immunity from prosecution for accepting bribes to vote in Parliament or an Assembly.


Article 194(2) states that ‘No member of the Legislature of a State shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in the Legislature or any committee thereof, and no person shall be so liable in respect of the publication by or under the authority of a House of such a Legislature of any report, paper, votes or proceedings.’

Sita Soren, a member of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), was accused of accepting a bribe to vote for a particular candidate in the Rajya Sabha Elections of 2012. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) subsequently filed an official chargesheet against Sita Soren for allegedly accepting a bribe for a vote and a case was filed in the High Court of Jharkhand. In 2014, The Jharkhand High Court dismissed the plea filed by Sita Soren seeking to quash the criminal proceedings that had been initiated against her, claiming that she enjoyed immunity under Article 194(2) of the Constitution. The case has subsequently been appealed before the Supreme Court.

A 3 judge Bench of the Supreme Court heard the case on 7 March 2019 and took note of the decision of the Constitution Bench in P. V. Narsimha Rao v State(1998), where the Court (in a 3:2 majority) had held that parliamentarians enjoy immunity under the Constitution against criminal prosecution with regards to their speech and votes in the House. The Bench comprising CJI Ranjan Gogoi,  S Abdul Nazeer, and Sanjiv Khanna J accordingly referred the matter to a larger Bench.

On 20 September 2023, a  five-judge Constitution Bench referred the Supreme Court’s judgement in P.V. Narasimha Rao v State (1998) to a seven-judge bench. The seven-judge bench was tasked with deciding the extent of immunity for lawmakers under Articles 105(2) and 194(2) of the Constitution in cases of bribery. The Court heard the case for two days on 4 and 5 October 2023 and reserved judgement.

Supreme Court: Bribery erodes parliamentary democracy

The Bench held that the acceptance of the bribe was an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Therefore, actions that follow the bribery have no bearing on the application of immunity. That is, after receiving the bribe, a law-maker will be liable irrespective of whether or not they cast the vote according to the bribe received. Providing immunity in these situations, the Bench reasoned, failed to fulfil the test of whether such protection is necessary to discharge legislative functions. In other words, parliamentary immunity was extended to lawmakers for acts in the discharge of their parliamentary duties, nothing more. 

The Bench held that the P.V. Narasimha Rao has a “paradoxical outcome” which “results in a situation where a legislator is rewarded with immunity when they accept a bribe,” but if they do not act according to the bribe, they are prosecuted. They concluded that it had to be overruled. 

During the hearing, the Chief who was reading the judgement aloud also stated that “corruption and bribery of members of the legislature erode the foundation of Indian parliamentary democracy” and could not be allowed.

The Court also laid down a two-fold test for when law-makers may enjoy immunity under Articles 105(2) and 194(2).

  1. Immunity will apply if there is a collective function of the legislature that is involved
  2. The act in question must be essentially related to the discharging of the function of the house.

Lastly, the Bench held that this applied to elections of members of the legislature, Rajya Sabha, President and Vice-President.


(This report was updated at 1:00 pm on 4 March 2024)