Kurukshetra IAS Academy Blogs

1. SC ends immunity for legislators taking bribes

Seven-judge Bench overrules the judgment by a five-judge Bench in 25-year-old JMM bribery case

The Bench observes that corruption by elected members puts representative democracy at stake

The court dismisses fears of enhanced possibility for abuse of the law by political parties in power

A seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court on Monday declared that parliamentary privilege or immunity will not protect legislators who take bribes to vote or speak in Parliament or State Legislative Assemblies from criminal prosecution.

“Privileges and immunities are not gateways to claim exemptions from the general law of the land… Corruption and bribery of members of the legislature erode the foundation of Indian parliamentary democracy,” the Supreme Court observed.

The unanimous verdict authored by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud overruled a 25-year-old majority view of the Supreme Court, laid down in the JMM bribery case judgment of 1998, that lawmakers who took bribes were immune from prosecution for corruption if they go ahead and vote or speak in the House as agreed.

‘Majority erred’

The seven-judge Bench said the majority on the five-judge Bench in the JMM bribery case had erred. The court did not want to perpetuate the grave error. Representative democracy was at stake. Chief Justice Chandrachud clarified that the offence of bribery was complete the moment the corruption money was accepted.

“The legislator will face criminal prosecution whether or not he makes a speech or votes in favour of the bribe-giver. The offence of bribery is complete on the acceptance of the money or on the agreement to accept money being concluded,” Chief Justice Chandrachud observed.

The Constitution Bench dismissed notions that whittling down parliamentary immunity would expose a vote or a speech made by Opposition lawmakers in the House to criminal investigation and thus enhance the possibility of abuse of the law by political parties in power.

Bribed lawmakers, the court said, were destructive to the “aspirational and deliberative ideals of the Constitution and create a polity which deprives citizens of a responsible, responsive and representative democracy”.

Chief Justice Chandrachud reasoned that the freedom of speech and expression, which include voting in the House, and attendant immunities granted to legislators under Articles 105 and 194 did not extend to giving or taking bribes.

The judgment said parliamentary immunity would kick in only if a legislator acts in furtherance of “fertilising a deliberate, critical and responsive democracy”.

Twofold test

The shield of immunity or parliamentary privilege could be claimed in two circumstances. One, if the actions of a legislator were meant to enhance the dignity and authority of the House and its members as a collective body and, secondly, if they were in the exercise of his rights to free speech, protest and freedom from arrest, among others. A claim for immunity would not survive if it failed this two-fold test, the court said.

“An interpretation which enables an MP to claim immunity from prosecution for an offence of bribery would place them above the law. This would be repugnant to the healthy functioning of parliamentary democracy and subversive of the rule of law,” Chief Justice Chandrachud observed.

Criminal courts and Houses of the legislature have parallel jurisdiction over allegations of bribery. One cannot negate the jurisdiction of the other. “The jurisdiction exercised by a competent court to prosecute a criminal offence and the authority of the House to take action for a breach of discipline in relation to the acceptance of a bribe by a member of the legislature exist in distinct spheres,” Chief Justice Chandrachud laid down.

The reference came in an appeal filed by JMM leader Sita Soren, who was accused of taking a bribe to vote for a particular candidate in the Rajya Sabha elections of 2012.

Though she later denied culpability on the ground that she voted for the official nominee of her own party, the CBI had filed a chargesheet in the case. The Jharkhand High Court had refused to quash the chargesheet, following which she had moved the apex court.

2. Over 1,000 Indians crossed into U.K. illegally in 2023

The number of Indians applying for asylum in the U.K. crossed the 5,000-mark for the first time in 2023

In 2023, more than 1,000 Indians risked their lives to reach the U.K. by crossing the English Channel from Europe in inflatable small boats, searching for jobs and seeking asylum. The number of Indians who took this dangerous journey has surged in recent years. In 2023, the number more than doubled from the previous year. The share of illegal migrants from India aged 18-29 has shot up in recent years; they formed close to 60% of the total number of illegal Indian migrants in 2023. In parallel, the number of Indians applying for asylum in the U.K. has also surged in recent years, crossing the 5,000-mark for the first time in 2023. Notably, the number of Indians crossing into the U.S. illegally has also surged recently, with close to 1 lakh people doing so in 2023.

The U.K. has been grappling with the problem of a sudden surge in the inflow of illegal migrants in recent years. There has been a notable rise in the number of asylum-seekers arriving in the U.K. by small boats from the European mainland. Through most of 2021 and 2022, daily crossings of the perilous English Channel by thousands of migrants were recorded. Although the number of these crossings decreased in 2023 compared with the previous two years, the incidence of such events remained substantially higher than what was observed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. This trend continues in 2024, with over 2,000 people crossing into the U.K. until February 27 this year.

Chart 1 shows the number of Indians who arrived in small boats between 2018 and 2023. In 2023, most of those who crossed into the U.K. were from Afghanistan (5,545 people), Iran (3,562), and Turkey (3,060). Indians featured ninth on the list with 1,192 crossings, similar to the number of people from Albania and Egypt. In 2022, Albania recorded 12,600 crossings, the highest that year, as its economy had turned anaemic, impacting jobs and wages.

Chart 2 shows the number of U.K. asylum applications raised by Indians over the years. The number skyrocketed post-pandemic, with 5,253 Indians applying for asylum in the U.K. in 2023. In total, close to 84,500 people from around the world applied for asylum last year. Close to 9,300 were from Afghanistan, the highest, followed by Iran (7,397), Pakistan (5,273), and India (5,253).

Chart 3 shows the age-wise share of Indian asylum applicants in the U.K. After the pandemic, the share of people aged 18-29 formed more than 50% in all the years. In 2023, 57% of the asylum-seekers were from this age group.

Chart 4 shows the number of asylum applications by Indians that were granted at the initial stage. In 2023, over 140 Indian asylum applicants were granted either protection or leave to remain (those who do not qualify for refugee status but are given permission to stay for various other reasons). It is important to note that most Indian asylum applications were rejected or the applicants themselves withdrew after some time.

This rising tide of asylum-seekers is now a political issue in the U.K. as the country may go to the polls later this year or in early January next year. The British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has long been pledging to “stop the boats” — a reference to the recent surge in illegal migrants crossing the English Channel. Given that the Conservative Party has been trailing the opposition Labour Party by a considerable margin in the opinion polls until now, Mr. Sunak has been pushing a Bill to send asylum-seekers in the U.K. to Rwanda, the outcome of which may have an impact on his and his party’s success in the polls.

3. Allow MPs, MLAs to speak without fear of harassment in House, says SC

A Constitution Bench on Monday said the Parliament and State legislatures would lose their representative character in a democratic polity if MPs and MLAs are not able to attend the House and speak their minds in the exercise of their duties as members without fear of being harassed by the executive or any agencies.

“The freedom of elected legislators to discuss and debate matters of the moment on the floor of the House is a key component of a deliberative democracy in a parliamentary form of government. The ability of legislators to conduct their functions in an environment which protects their freedom to do so without being overawed by coercion or fear is constitutionally secured. As citizens, legislators have a fundamental right to the freedom of speech and expression,” Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud observed.

The judgment overruled a majority judgment of 1998 in the JMM bribery case.

“… Even in the face of colonial reluctance, the demand for parliamentary privileges in India was always tied to the relationship which it bore to the functions which the Indian legislators sought to discharge,” the judgment said.

However, the Bench said the parliamentary privilege and immunity would swing into action if legislators were threatened with prosecution for their official actions or speeches given in the House to enhance the dignity and authority of the legislature.

The Chief Justice said freedom of speech in the Houses of Parliament and their committees was one such “necessary privilege” essential to the functioning of the House.

“This privilege is not only essential to the ability of Parliament and its members to carry out their duties, but it is also at the core of the function of a democratic legislative institution,” the judgment noted.

Similarly, the vote given by an MP was an extension of speech. “Therefore, the freedom of a Member of Parliament to cast a vote is also protected by the freedom of speech in Parliament,” the court set down.

4. Rajya Sabha elections must be given utmost protection, says court

The Supreme Court on Monday said the elections to the Rajya Sabha and Council of States required “utmost protection” and the right to vote should be carried out freely without fear or persecution.

“The Rajya Sabha or the Council of States performs an integral function in the working of our democracy and the role played by the Rajya Sabha constitutes a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Therefore, the role played by elected members of the State Legislative Assemblies in electing members of the Rajya Sabha under Article 80 is significant and requires utmost protection to ensure that the vote is exercised freely and without fear of legal persecution,” a Constitution Bench of seven judges, headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, said.

He also said the free and fearless exercise of franchise by elected members of the Legislative Assembly while electing members of the Rajya Sabha was undoubtedly necessary for the dignity and efficient functioning of the State Legislative Assembly.

The court said parliamentary privilege was not to be restricted to only law-making on the floor of the House but extended to other powers and responsibilities of elected members, which took place in the Legislature or Parliament even when the House was not sitting.

5. Uttarakhand Cabinet nod for Ordinance to recover damage cost

The Uttarakhand Cabinet on Monday approved an Ordinance for the recovery of the cost of damage to public property during riots and protests from those involved.

The government has also formed a tribunal which will assess the cost of the damage.

Those found guilty will also have to pay a fine of up to ₹8 lakh apart from the recovery amount. It will be used to pay for the expenses incurred on riot control.

Heavy price

The Cabinet nod to the Uttarakhand Public (Government) and Recovery of Damage to Private Property (Ordinance) Act 2024, comes less than a month after violence broke out in Haldwani’s Banbhoolpura after the civic body demolished an illegal madrasa and mazar built on Nazool (owned by government) land. Five people were killed and 100 injured in the violence. “With the aim of strictly curbing the cases of riots and unrest, the Cabinet has approved the constitution of a Special Tribunal. The damage caused to public property during the riots will be compensated by the rioters themselves. Those who disturb the peace of the State will have to pay a heavy price,” Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami wrote on X.

A government communique said that in addition to the compensation, the rioters will also have to pay for the treatment of those injured in the violence.

Apart from this, the entire expense incurred during the riots on the police, administration or other agencies for riot control will also be recovered from the people involved.

6. ‘Centre’s AI ‘under-testing’ advisory only for big firms’

Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar said that the IT Ministry’s advisory on Saturday that ‘under-testing’ A.I. applications must be approved by the government before general public availability was intended “only for large platforms and will not apply to start-ups.”

The advisory suggested tech firms “to ensure that use of AI model(s)/LLM/Generative AI, software(s) or algorithm(s) … not permit its users to host, display … any unlawful content,” and that “use of under-testing/unreliable AI model(s)/LLM/Generative AI, software(s) or algorithm(s) and its availability to the users on Indian Internet must be done so with explicit permission of the GoI and be deployed only after appropriately labelling the possible and inherent fallibility or unreliability of the output.”

The advisory came on the heels of Mr. Chandrasekhar’s pointed response to Google’s Gemini chatbot, whose response to the query, “Is [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi a fascist?” had circulated widely on social media, before Google took steps to prevent it from answering the question.

“I’m still learning how to answer this question,” is one of the chatbot’s responses to this query now.

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