President APJ Abdul Kalam on Friday signed the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill 2006, which he had earlier returned to the two Houses for reconsideration.
The presidential assent lifted the Damocles’s sword hanging over more than three-dozen MPs, including Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, for holding ‘office of profit’.
The assent also ended a fortnight's suspense, during which both Houses decided to set up a joint committee to address Kalam's questions on the bill which he made in his messages to the LS and RS.
At a 15-minute meeting with the PM on Independence Day, Kalam had reportedly reminded Manmohan Singh about the government's promise of a joint parliamentary committee in the course of the second debate on the amendment.
The government thereafter went into an overdrive to act on the reminder in return for his assent.
Kalam's assent, therefore, appears to be linked to the announcement of the setting up of the 15-member committee on Thursday.
The panel members will look for a generic definition of the office of profit as the president desired.
The committee members, — whose names have to be announced — will also look into the president's concerns on the implication of exempting offices for which disqualification proceedings are under way as well as the “propriety” of making the amendment apply with retrospective effect.
The deliberations are expected to provide a format for a comprehensive law that would require a constitutional amendment.
While returning the bill in May, Kalam had consulted constitutional experts for six days. This time he held on to the bill for nearly a fortnight.
The Constitution does not give the President any option but to give his assent to a bill passed twice, but it does not set a deadline for the assent.
Hours before Kalam signed the bill, the Election Commission had sent a notice to Trinamool's Mukul Roy who filed a petition against Chatterjee and some other CPM members.
In view of the presidential assent, these petitions and some more that come under the 56 posts exempted by the office of profit law, now become infructuous. But health minister Anbumani Ramadoss will have to wait for the EC’s determination.
Asked if he felt relieved now, Chatterjee said, “Where is the question of relief as I never held an office of profit. But, yes, it saves me harassment.”
The presidential assent marks the end of the first part of the political battle that began with Jaya Bachchan's disqualification and took a toll on several other MPs, including Sonia Gandhi and Kapila Vatsyayan who quit their seats to duck disqualification. The second part remains with the rivals gearing up to challenge the legal and constitutional validity of the law.
The assent clears the decks for the government to bring in the Jallianwalla Bagh Memorial Bill — which ensures a permanent slot for the Congress president — and paves way for Sonia to resume charge as chairperson of the National Advisory Council.
But sources said the Congress would not hurry in urging her to get back to the NAC or the trusts she resigned from, as it anticipates a legal battle over the legislation.
Many, including Trinamool MP Dinesh Trivedi, have threatened to move court. The BJP too said it has kept its options open to challenge the law.