Millennium Post

Crime and supreme sentiments

In a landmark ruling on the legality of people with criminal antecedents being appointed as ministers, a five-judge constitutional bench, headed by Chief Justice of India R M Lodha ruled that the Prime Minister’s powers to choose members of his cabinet cannot be restricted, however ‘constitutional expectation’ is that the head of government will keep out people with criminal backgrounds from his council of ministers. ‘It is also expected that the Prime Minister should act in the interest of the national polity of the nation-state.’

The Supreme Court in public interest litigation petition titled Manoj Narula Vs Union of India seeking removal of the then four charge sheeted ministers — Lalu Prasad, Mohammed Taslimuddin, M A A Fatmi and Jai Prakash Yadav from the Cabinet said, ‘Article 75 of the Constitution does not contain any limitation as to who can or cannot be included in the Council of Ministers’ and hence no new disqualification could be added to prevent chargesheeted persons from being appointed as ministers.

The court observed that criminalisation of politics destroyed people’s faith in democracy and persons, howsoever; high he/she might be could not be exempted from equal treatment. It said constitutional morality, good governance and constitutional trust expected good sense from the Prime Minister and it should be left to his wisdom not to recommend any person with criminal charges from being appointed as a minister.

The apex court asked ‘whether a person who has come in conflict with law would be in a position to conscientiously discharge his functions as minister when his integrity is questioned and whether a person with doubtful integrity can be given the responsibility?’ It pointed out that a person against whom charges were framed or was facing trial was not appointed in any civil service. While so whether a person who was facing the same disqualification could be appointed as a minister by the Prime minister or the Chief minister of a state.

Justice Dipak Misra said, ‘Criminalisation of politics is anathema to the sacredness of democracy. It is worth saying that systemic corruption and sponsored criminalisation can corrode the fundamental core of elective democracy and, consequently, the constitutional governance.’ ‘A democratic republic polity hopes and aspires to be governed by a Government which is run by the elected representatives who do not have any involvement in serious criminal offences or offences relating to corruption, casteism, societal problems, affecting the sovereignty of the nation and many other offences. Corruption has the potentiality to destroy many a progressive aspect and it has acted as the formidable enemy of the nation.’

‘The framers of the Constitution left many a thing unwritten. They also expected that the Prime minster would act in the interest of the national polity of the nation-state. The Prime minister has to bear in mind that unwarranted elements or persons who are facing charge in certain category of offences may thwart or hinder the canons of constitutional morality or principles of good governance and eventually diminish the constitutional trust.’

Last year the Apex court in Lily Thomas Vs Union of India & Ors has already held on 10 July 2013 that charge sheeted Members of Parliament and Member of Legislative Assemblies, on conviction for offences, will be immediately disqualified from holding membership of the House without being given three months’ time for appeal, as was the case before. A Bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and S.J.

Mukhopadhaya struck down as unconstitutional Section 8 (4) of the Representation of the People Act that allows convicted lawmakers a three-month period for filing appeal to the higher court and to get a stay of the conviction and sentence. The Bench, however, made it clear that the ruling will be prospective and those who had already filed appeals in various High Courts or the Supreme Court against their convictions would be exempt from it.

However the Manmohan Singh cabinet in September 2013 approved an ordinance to reverse the Supreme Court judgment in order to save Lalu Prasad Yadav in the fodder scam case in the event the verdict goes against him. In a major embarrassment for Manmohan Singh and his cabinet colleagues, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi Friday at a hurriedly called press conference at Press Club publicly castigated the UPA government for issuing an ordinance to negate the Supreme Court order on disqualifying convicted MPs and MLAs, terming it as ‘complete nonsense’ that should be ‘torn and thrown out’. Later the cabinet took a decision and withdrew the ordinance, which kept the convicted MP and MLA out of the parliament and legislative assembly.

Last couple of years has witnessed cleansing of criminals from electoral politics by the judicial verdict. The courts have come down heavily on the political parties who over the last couple of decades have encouraged criminals to join the political fray and the number of criminals in both parliament and state assemblies has gone up tremendously irrespective of any political affiliations. In spite of court pronouncements political parties have done little precious in decriminalizing Indian politics and probably time has come when the electorate of this country will reject not only the candidates but also those parties, which support and seek support from criminals or such candidates with criminal antecedents.

The author is an advocate
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