In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld Parliament's decision to expel 11 MPs for their involvement in the December 2005 cash-for-query scam. The court also upheld the expulsion of another Rajya Sabha member whose petition it heard alongside.
The court described the expulsions as a "self-protection" exercise by Parliament.
The judgment put to rest apprehensions of a confrontation between the judiciary and the legislature, given that the presiding officers of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha had refused to accept the court’s notices on the petitions moved by the expelled members.
A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice YK Sabharwal held by 4 to 1 majority that Parliament has the power to expel erring MPs. But it said that Parliament’s actions remained subject to judicial review. "Proceedings (of Parliament) which may be tainted on account of substantive or gross illegality or unconstitutionality are not protected from judicial scrutiny," the bench said.
The court rejected the Centre’s argument that the exercise of parliamentary privileges under Article 105 could not be circumscribed by other constitutional provisions such as the fundamental rights enshrined. It said the court cannot be "prevented from scrutinising the validity of the action of the legislature trespassing on the fundamental rights conferred on citizens."
It clarified, however, that judicial review did not mean that the jurisdiction of the legislature was being usurped by the court.
The court said that the "truth or correctness of the material (relied upon by the legislature for taking action) will not be questioned by the court nor will it go into the adequacy of the material or substitute its opinion for that of the legislature".
The ruling clears confusion over the extent and scope of uncodified parliamentary privileges under Articles 105 (Parliament) and 194 (state assemblies) on which the opinion of high courts has been divided.
Terming the judgment as "momentous", noted constitutional expert Fali S Nariman said the Supreme Court showed "great judicial statesmanship".
In the cash-for-query scam, a sting operation by a private TV channel had shown the MPs accepting money for raising questions in Parliament. Ten of them were from the Lok Sabha: Annasaheb MK Patil, YG Mahajan, Pradeep Gandhi, Suresh handel and CP Singh (all from BJP), NK Kushwaha, Raja Ram Pal and LC Kol (all from BSP), Ramsevak Singh (Congress) and Manoj Kumar (RJD). One was a Rajya Sabha member - the BJP’s CS Lodha.
The other case heard related to Rajya Sabha member Sakshi Maharaj of the Samajwadi party who was expelled for his involvement in the MP Local Area Development (MPLAD) fund scam.