President signs ordinance to save convicted MPs, MLAs from disqualification

The President of India has given his assent to an ordinance to prevent disqualification of convicted MPs and MLAs, through amendments to the Representation of People Act, 1951 and signed `The Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill, 2013' into law.

The Representation of People (Amendment) Bill, which has been published in the Gazette of India, Extraordinary, dated 23 September 2013, seeks to revoke a Supreme Court ruling that disqualified members of Parliament and state legislatures convicted by a court of law from contesting elections.

A division bench of the Supreme Court by its order dated 10 July 2013, upheld an order of the High Court of Patna declaring that a person who has no right to vote by virtue of the provisions of The Representation of People Act, 1951, is not an elector and is, therefore, not qualified to contest the election to either the Parliament or the legislative assembly of a state.

While the government had filed a petition for review of the order in consultation with the attorney-general, it considered the option of amending the law without waiting for the outcome of the review petition, in order to remedy the situation arising out of the order of the Supreme Court.

Under the amended Act, the definition of the term "disqualified" in clause (b) of section 7 has been amended so as to ''expressly provide that a member of Parliament or the legislature of a state shall be disqualified for being chosen as or for being such member only if he is so disqualified under the provisions of Chapter III of Part II of the said Act and on no other ground.''

The support the amendment, the Act has a new proviso to sub-section (5) of section 62 of the Act so as to ''expressly provide that by reason of the prohibition to vote under the said sub-section, a person whose name has been entered in the electoral roll shall not cease to be an elector.''

The amendments to the Act assumed urgency following the conviction of Congress MP Rashid Masood in a case of corruption and other offences and the government had even weighed the options of bringing an ordinance in this regard.

Once the quantum of punishment is pronounced by a CBI court next month, Masood faces the prospects of losing his membership of Rajya Sabha as the July 10 order of the apex court is now the law of the land.

The amended Act would now save the first MP to lose his seat after the Supreme Court verdict from such a calamity.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, a Lok Sabha member, also faces the possibility of conviction in the fodder scam case when the court pronounces judgement on 30 September.

The ordinance will prevent the instant disqualification of the two members from Parliament.

Without the amendments, a number of MPs, MLAs and MLCs stand to lose membership of Parliament and state legislators.

The government's move has come in for sharp criticism from the opposition BJP and the Left who argued that instead of taking the ordinance route, the government should have waited for the winter session of Parliament to pass the necessary amendment to the Representation of People Act (RPA).

Commentators say with no opposition from any of the political parties to the amendment bill, it is clear that the government is misusing the powers by issuing an ordinance to protect its own members and allies.