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HindustanTimes Sat,29 Nov 2014

SC ruling on convicted MPs, MLAs: judgement can have fatal side-effects

Vinod Sharma, Hindustan Times   July 11, 2013
First Published: 14:31 IST(11/7/2013) | Last Updated: 16:00 IST(11/7/2013)

The Supreme Court judgment on disqualification of corrupt legislators appears impinging on at least one basic feature of the Constitution: the citizens’ fundamental right to judicial redressal.

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The poser isn’t intended to shield or make out a case for the corrupt or criminal elements in politics. They must be weeded out at the earliest. But the remedy sought cannot be worse than the malaise.

I’m no legal pundit and will be too happy to be corrected by constitutional experts. To me the court verdict seems to abridge the three-tiered right to judicial redressal. Its impact will just not be on the legislators but also the voters.

The question, therefore, is whether a trial court at the judiciary’s lowest rung should have the final word in overturning the democratic mandate?

The pertinence of the quandary arising out of the judgement is buttressed by past instances of higher courts negating verdicts of the lower judiciary both in terms of convictions and acquittals.

Safety valves against an innocent legislator being disqualified are imperative also on another count: the harm done to the person will be irreversible because by the time the case reaches finality, the life of the House might be over.

In a divided polity such disqualifications can bring down governments that wouldn’t be restored by corrective verdicts of the higher judiciary. On the flip side, there is the possibility of a government surviving on the strength of legislators acquitted by lower courts but declared guilty by superior judges.

How will our judiciary and our polity deal with such eventualities in historical and contemporary terms? Will decisions taken, laws passed and foreign treaties signed by a regime retrospectively found to be sustained by criminal lawmakers, be legally and constitutionally valid?

An identical situation had arisen with regard to parliamentary records relating to MPs who quit when found to be holding offices of profit.

There can be no quarrel with the argument that a civil servant’s immediate suspension or dismissal from service and a legislator’s continuation during pendency of his appeal was a grave anomaly needing correction.

But we must bear in mind that an MP or an MLA cannot be restored the way a bureaucrat is in service upon getting a clean chit by the court.

A legislator’s term is restricted to five years or actual longevity of the House. In contrast a civil servant retires after tenure of 25 to 30 years. It’s like comparing chalk and cheese.

Let’s debate the issue soberly without being rhetorical or crass populist.

The RP Act was indeed discriminatory in barring convicted persons from contesting election while affording the elbow room of appeal to sitting legislators.

But placing both at par is not a perfect solution to the incongruity. The complexities of our fractured polity beg solutions without fatal side-effects.

The views expressed by the author are personal.


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