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Supreme court holds its fort

MPs fight to keep criminals in power, screamed a newspaper headline. The Supreme Court has ruled that politicians convicted of serious crimes must step down but the lawmakers are fighting back. They are striving hard to restore the earlier position, allowing the convicted MPs and legislators to get stay of their conviction and stay on in political contests. The Representation of the People (second amendment and validating) Bill, 2013 seeks to negate the apex court judgment of 10 July, which said that if any sitting MP or MLA is convicted, he would have to resign from the legislature.   
Shockingly, 30 per cent of India’s MPs face criminal charge including (rape and murder). As many as 68,033 people across India have called for serious criminals to be removed from Parliament. The Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) has come out with figures which are staggering. Going by the records of the Election Commission, the ADR says 162 of 545 Lok Sabha members and 1,258 out of 4,032 sitting MLAs have declared that there are certain cases pending against them. Those among them who have been convicted ‘in harness’ have filed appeals so that they can service full-term.   
Therefore, the spurt of criminals in politics has to be halted whatever may be the price – even if injustice is done to few innocent persons. The Supreme Court, showed sagacity last week when it firmly dismissed the Centre’s petition for review of its ruling, disqualifying MPs and MLAs immediately on being convicted in a criminal case with a sentence of two years imprisonment or more.

It is unfortunate that the government has now decided to amend the law to restore the earlier position that is allowing the convicted MPs and legislators three months time for appealing in a higher court and getting a stay of their conviction and sentence. This enables criminals to continue their tenure in Parliament and state assemblies if they file appeals against their conviction in a higher court. Any judge in any democracy who sees steady deterioration in democratic values is bound to correct this aberration. Dismissing the review petition, a bench of Justices A K Patnaik and S J Mukhopadhaya had, however, observed that ‘Parliament if free to amend the law if it does not agree with the interpretation of law given by the apex court. Parliament frames laws in the manner they like. If we make interpretation of law and if it is not accepted by Parliament, it is again for Parliament to enact a law’. The dismissal of the review petition may be a cause of concern for the government which – backed by all major parties – is planning changes in the law to soften the apex court’s blow.

Another legislation of importance, having approved by the Rajya Sabha, was passed by the Lok Sabha before adjourning sine die last night. During the brief debate on the bill, members, cutting across party lines, argued ‘if an SHO decides to detain a law maker on the eve of election, the legislator cannot file nomination’. Law Minister Kapil Sibal said it was our constitutional duty to correct the position.  

A division bench of the Supreme court on 10 July 2013 has upheld an order of the High Court of Patna, declaring that a person who has no right to vote is not an elector and is, therefore, not qualified to contest the election to either House of Parliament or the Legislative Assembly of a state. The verdict is considered important as it ensures that those who are convicted of serious crimes cannot sit in Parliament or state legislature by filing an appeal. The crucial verdict struck down as unconstitutional Section 8 (4) of the Representation of the People Act that gives elected convicts the cover of appeal in order to sit in Parliament or state assemblies for years. The government has examined the said order of the Supreme Court and filed a petition for review of the order in consultation of the Attorney General. Further, the government is of the view that without waiting for the outcome of the review petition, there is need for suitable addressing the situation arising out of said order of the apex court. Therefore, it proposed to amend the said act.
Now fate of Representation of the People (Second Amendment Validation) Bill 2013, hangs in balance as the principal opposition party – BJP – has had a rethink on it. The Bill seeks to negate the Supreme Court judgment of 10 July, which said that if any sitting MP or MLA is convicted, he would have to resign from the legislature.  

Consensus on protecting the membership of convicted MPs, legislators has snapped as the BJP opposed the amendment to the RP Act. The BJP leaders argue that amendment is a bad law, feel the Supreme Court has rightly held that convicted legislators cannot continue under the provision of the Constitution. Apex court has held that a legislator convicted for an offence of two years and more will be immediately unseated.

Now with the BJP disinclined to amend the law, the fate of convicted legislators looks uncertain. For convicted MPs and MLAs, or those who face that possibility such as RJD leader, Lalu Prasad Yadav, whose case in fodder scam is in the final stages in a trail court in Ranchi, the BJP’s change of heart could spell trouble.

The leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, described as ‘immoral’ the piece of legislation where Parliament is amending the law to enable convicted people to become law makers. IPA
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