SC bars convicted MPs, MLAs from holding office

Striking a blow to criminal politicians ruling the roost across the country, the Supreme Court today nullified as ''ultra vires'' a provision of the Representation of the Peoples Act which protects lawmakers convicted of criminal activities by a trial court from being disqualified.

Supreme CourtThis ruling could see several lawmakers in both Parliament and state assemblies lose their seats.

Under current provisions, convicted members of parliament and state legislative assemblies cannot be disqualified as long as an appeal against their conviction is pending in higher courts.

"The only question is about the vires of Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, and we hold that it is ultra vires and that the disqualification takes place from the date of conviction," a bench comprising Justices A K Patnaik and S J Mukhopadhaya ruled.

The court however clarified said that its decision will not have retrospective effect on MPs, MLAs or other lawmakers who have already have filed appeals in higher courts before today's pronouncement.

The apex court's verdict came on public interest petitions filed by lawyer Lily Thomas and social organisation Lok Prahari, who had sought the striking down of various provisions of the Act on the grounds that they violate constitutional provisions which, among other things, expressly put a bar on criminals getting registered as voters or becoming MPs or MLAs.

The petitioners said certain sections of the RPA allow convicted lawmakers to continue in office while their appeals are pending, and these provisions are "discriminatory and encourage criminalisation of politics".

According to independent studies, a huge 31 per cent of India's MPs and state-level egislators (MLAs or MLCs) have criminal cases pending against them on police records. Of the 4,835 MPs and MLAs/MLCs in the country, 1,448 are facing criminal cases.

The cases involve serious charges like murder, rape, attempt to murder, kidnapping, extortion, and robbery.

Observers say this is another issue where parties across the political spectrum will close ranks to fight the apex court ruling seeking more accountability from lawmakers. The Bharatiya Janata Party has already said that ''such verdicts'' need to be studied.

Former chief election commissioner S Y Quraishi called the ruling a "landmark judgement". He added, "The impact will be a great help in cleaning up the political system."