PRESIDENT A.P.J. 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 lifts the Damocles's sword hanging over more than three-dozen MPs, including Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, for holding ‘offices of profit’.
The assent also ended a fortnight's suspense, during which both Houses decided to set up a joint committee to address the president's questions on the bill which he made in his messages to the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
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.
Kalam's assent, therefore, appears to be linked to the announcement of the setting up of the 15-member committee on Thursday.
The panel will look for a comprehensive and generic definition of the office of profit as the president desired. The committee members - 10 from the Lok Sabha and five from the Rajya Sabha - 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 through a constitutional amendment.
While returning the Bill in May, Kalam had consulted constitutional experts for six days. This time -- after Parliament hurriedly passed the legislation a second time and returned it to him -- 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 either.
Hours before Kalam signed the bill, the Election Commission had sent a notice to the Trinamool's Mukul Roy who filed a petition against Chatterjee and some other CPM members. In view of the presidential assent, the petition now becomes infructuous. But Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss will have to wait for the EC's determination.
The presidential assent concludes the political battle that began earlier this year with Jaya Bachchan's disqualification and then went on to take its toll on several other MPs, including Sonia Gandhi and Kapila Vatsyayan who quit their seats and ducked the disqualification 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 (NAC).
But sources said the Congress would not hurry in urging her to get back to the NAC or the trusts she resigned from, since it anticipates a legal battle over the office-of-profit legislation. Many, including Trinamool MP Dinesh Trivedi, have said they will move court.