SC rejects plea to eject tainted ministers, but cautions PM, CMs

In a reportedly a split verdict, the Supreme Court today rejected a petition seeking the summary removal of central and state ministers facing criminal charges.

Delivering the verdict, a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India R M Lodha ruled that the SC could direct the prime minister or chief ministers to remove such ministers from their cabinet, but strongly suggested that such people should not be made ministers.

''Appointment of cabinet ministers with a criminal past must be left to the wisdom of the PM,'' the apex court said, while cautioning that ''PM and CMs should not include people with criminal antecedents in their cabinet''.

The bench said that disqualification could not be added to Article 75 (1) of the Constitution that empowers the prime minister to make anyone a minister; but added that a person in conflict with law should not be entrusted with executive responsibilities.

"Those in conflict with law and involved in offences of moral turpitude and corruption should not be allowed to discharge duty as ministers," PTI quoted the SC as saying.

"Prime minister and chief ministers should not include people with criminal antecedents in their cabinet," the SC added.

"The Constitution reposes immense trust in PM and CMs and they are expected to act with responsibility and with constitutional morality."

The Narendra Modi government has 11 ministers with police cases against them.

In 2004, a petitioner sought the removal of Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mohammed Taslimuddin, M A A Fatmi and Jai Prakash Yadav from the then Congress-led UPA government.

His plea was dismissed by the lower courts and later taken up for review by the country's five senior-most judges.

The Centre has argued that removing ministers is against the Constitutional prerogative of Parliament and the will of the people, and that "once a person is an MP, he is entitled to be in the council of ministers, if the Prime Minister so decides".

Last year, the SC had ruled that that elected lawmakers will stand disqualified if convicted by a court and sentenced to two years of imprisonment or more.

The UPA government then tried to bring an ordinance to undo the order, but had to scrap it in the face of a public outcry and more importantly because of an outburst by against it at a press conference  by Congress Party vice president Rahul Gandhi.

The court said constitutional functionaries are expected to uphold trust reposed in them by the people and the ''cherished values'' of democracy.

In the last hearing the government had contended that only Parliament can decide what would constitute as being a criminal past of the ministers.

According to elections affidavits, 30 per cent of ministers in the Narendra Modi government face criminal cases and 18 per cent have declared "serious criminal cases".

Union water resources minister Uma Bharti has a case related to attempt to murder and a case related to sections on promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion against her. She had also declared a case related to illegal payments in connection with an election.

Upendra Kushwaha of the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party and Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party have each declared a case related to bribery.

Earlier, the Prime Minister, who had promised a clean Parliament, had asked MPs to get the pending criminal cases expedited.

On 10 July 2013 the SC had ruled that an MP or MLA would be immediately disqualified if convicted by a court in a criminal offence with a jail sentence of two years or more (See: SC bars convicted MPs, MLAs from holding office).

The Supreme Court had struck down Section 8 (4) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which protects convicted legislators from disqualification if they appeal before a higher court within three months.