GOVT SEEKS TO NEGATE SC ORDER ON CONVICTED LAWMAKERS

NEW DELHI (TIP): Days after a Bill to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act to keep political parties out of its purview was tabled in the Lok Sabha, the Union Cabinet on Aug 22 gave its nod to amend the Representation of People Act (RPA) to ensure that convicted lawmakers are not disqualified from either Parliament or Legislative Assemblies. The Cabinet also cleared the setting up of a Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) Bill that seeks to replace the existing collegium system for judicial appointments to higher courts. The Cabinet meeting — chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — gave its clearance to amend the Representation of People Act that makes it clear that an MP or MLA cannot be disqualified after conviction if his or her appeal is pending before a court and sentence is stayed.

The Law Ministry had moved the proposal to amend the Act in the backdrop of a recent Supreme Court ruling for immediate disqualification of convicted lawmakers. Under the Law Ministry proposal, such (convicted) MPs and MLAs will be barred from voting in the House and drawing salary till the court decides their appeal. The Cabinet nod to amend the RPA reflects that despite serious political disagreements that have virtually rendered Parliament dysfunctional, there’s convergence on the issue of the recent SC ruling, which has been seen by members of the legislature and their political parties as judicial over-reach into the domain of lawmaking.

The proposal clearly seeks to negate the apex court verdict on immediate disqualification. Reports suggested that as per the Law Ministry’s proposal, a proviso would be added to sub-section (4) of Section 8 of the RP Act which makes it clear that the convicted member shall continue to take part in proceedings of Parliament or Legislature of a state, but he or she shall neither be entitled to vote nor draw salary and allowances till the appeal or revision is finally decided by the court. The second amendment states that a lawmaker would not lose his right to vote if under arrest even for a short duration and thereby would retain his right to contest a poll. Politicians had feared registration of false cases by their rivals, especially around election time.

The Law Ministry has proposed that the amendment to the RPA come into effect from July 10, 2013, the day the Supreme Court gave the landmark judgment. An earlier plan to amend the Constitution to negate the Supreme Court ruling has apparently been dropped. In its July 10 verdict, the Supreme Court had struck down a provision in the electoral law that protects a convicted lawmaker from disqualification on the ground of pendency of appeal in higher courts. The apex court also made it clear that MPs, MLAs and MLCs would stand disqualified on the date of conviction. The draft bill says, “A disqualification under any of the said sub-sections shall not, in the case of a person who on the date of the conviction is a member of Parliament or the legislature of a state, take effect, if an appeal or application for revision is filed in respect of the conviction and sentence within a period of 90 days from the date of conviction and such conviction or sentence is stayed by the court.”

The Cabinet also cleared the setting up of the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) Bill, which would give the government greater say in the appointment of judges of the Supreme Court and the 24 high courts. It seeks to replace the existing collegium system for appointments to the higher courts. The proposal to set up a JAC has been opposed by the judiciary, which now has complete control over the process. The Centre is keen to broad-base the judicial appointment system by setting up a panel comprising the Law Minister, Secretary Justice, two eminent persons and two judges of the apex court, headed by the Chief Justice.

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