Former Lok Sabha Speaker and veteran Supreme Court lawyer, Somnath Chatterjee is known for his strong views on important matters concerning the judiciary and parliament. 84-year-old Chatterjee, who was elected MP 10 times, does not agree with popular views on the Supreme Court judgments on immediate disqualification of convicted MPs/MLAs and the option of allowing None of the Above (NOTA) choice on EVMs.
How do you view the entire controversy surrounding the ordinance for protection of convicted MPs/MLAs from losing their seats?
To begin with, I beg to differ with the Supreme Court judgment on the subject, which is the genesis of the entire so-called controversy. With due respect to the honourable judges, in my view which might not be very palatable, they have finished the need of appellate courts. This judgment means that the verdict of a trial court is now enough to tarnish the image of an elected representative for his life.
If the conviction is reversed by a higher court, the disqualified MP/MLA can contest again. What is the problem with that?
This premise is against the very basis of any civilised system of jurisprudence. How will the wrong done to any MP/MLA for being disqualified on the basis of a conviction be undone in the eventuality of being acquitted by a higher court? It will defeat the very purpose of justice. Pardon me for saying so, but the Supreme Court has not merely struck down a clause of the Representation of People Act, it has assumed the power of parliament by laying down a law.
But if the governments do not take decisions on important issues like electoral reforms, why blame the courts for stepping in?
The problem today is that every institution wants more powers than what the Constitution provides for. Would it not have been better if the judiciary concentrates on reducing the vast number of pending cases rather than indulging in symbolism? I would have welcomed had the Supreme Court made it clear that in case an MP/MLA is convicted, the appeal would be decided in, say six months to end uncertainty in public interest. Why no thought was spared on that? The proposed amendment in the election law is a step in the right direction, there may be divergent views on whether it should have been done through an ordinance or a bill vetted by a standing committee was a better option.
Why are you critical of the Supreme Court verdict on allowing negative voting option on the EVMs?
Simply because, mere symbolism does not enamour me at the fag end of my life. Many will not like what I am saying, but after having spent five decades in public life and with a little knowledge of law, permit me to say that the Supreme Court is indulging in sensationalism and the media is irresponsibly lapping it up without any critical appreciation. I am deeply concerned with the role of media also.
But the Supreme Court only accepted what the Election Commission had been advocating since a decade-and-a-half as part of electoral reforms. It will only encourage more people to come out and vote. What is wrong in that?
According to me, it is sheer gimmickry. If EC thinks it is a serious electoral reform, then there is something seriously wrong. What a small section of elite thinks in Delhi does not reflect the reality of India. Those who advocate such moves cannot stand in a queue for hours in the Sun and rain to vote. If somebody is serious about electoral reforms, please implement the Indrajit Gupta report in totality and then the media would not have to look towards the Supreme Court for headlines.
Many countries have the option of not voting for any candidate. Why voters in India be denied that right?
The reality of every country is different. I want to know what purpose this option will serve! A candidate contests from two seats, in one of them NOTA voters are more than 50%, in the other he gets a majority, so are you trying to tell me that people in one of these two constituencies are fools? How can suggestions be given without considering the repercussions. I fail to understand the very logic of NOTA. Maybe, my eyes should have closed before all this.