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Prime Minister meets President

Manmohan met Kalam on Wednesday, even as Govt decided to again present the controversial Bill to Parliament after it was returned for reconsideration.

india Updated: Jun 01, 2006 01:09 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met President APJ Abdul Kalam on Wednesday, even as the Government decided to again present the controversial Office of Profit Bill to Parliament after it was returned for reconsideration.

"The prime minister and the president discussed current issues of national importance" during the 30-minute meeting at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, an official release said but the profit issue is believed to have dominated their discussions.

Meanwhile, the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) urged the Election Commission to take action against MPs the Bill sought to protect.

Earlier, Law Minister HR Bhardwaj told reporters that a cabinet meeting Thursday would decide in what form the Bill should be presented to Parliament.

In a major embarrassment for Manmohan Singh's multiparty Government, Kalam Tuesday returned for reconsideration by both houses of Parliament the Bill seeking to exempt 46 positions from being classified as offices of profit. The Bill had been passed during Parliament's budget session earlier this month.

Kalam has questioned its retrospective clause and the criteria for exempting various posts, and said it should be fair, reasonable and transparent. He pointed out that there was no uniformity across the country in the list of posts exempted from the criteria.

But asserting that there were no lacunae in the Bill, Bhardwaj said the centre could not decide the posts the state Governments wanted to exempt.

"How can there be one law? The legislative assemblies have their own place in the constitution and it's the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha that come under us and in the purview of the president," he pointed out.

"As far as legislative assemblies are concerned they are the responsibility of the chief minister and governor. In our federal structure these things are separate. They have the right to decide in their respective assemblies what they want to exempt," the law minister maintained.

Bhardwaj said: "I do not see any deficiency. We do not frame wrong legislations. But even the best of legislations are judicially challenged. The courts have the powers of judicial review."

The Bill exempted the posts once held by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee along with other prominent leaders.

The law ministry is believed to have sent a note to the prime minister suggesting that the Bill should not be amended before Parliament debates it.

A delegation of NDA leaders met Chief Election Commissioner B.B. Tandon soon after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded Gandhi's resignation from the Lok Sabha over the issue.

Gandhi had quit the Lok Sabha in late March when the controversy over the issue first erupted. She was re-elected from Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh by a record margin earlier this month.

The delegation submitted a memorandum urging Tandon to take action in cases pending before him against MPs who are facing disqualification for holding offices of profit against existing constitutional provisions.

NDA convenor George Fernandes and veteran BJP leader LK Advani led the 13-member delegation, which comprised senior leaders of the alliance, including BJP chief Rajnath Singh.

"If someone is holding an office of profit, then there is no way he or she can be exempted," Advani told reporters after the meeting. He said the NDA was seeking disqualification of such MPs.

"The NDA delegation would like to urge upon the Election Commission of India that they should process all the pending cases most expeditiously and furnish the opinion to the president of India on urgent basis," the memorandum said.

The Election Commission should complete the proceedings relating to the disqualification of members referred to them without waiting for further developments in the enactment of the amending law, the memorandum added.

"As there is no law to protect the lawmakers who are holding offices of profit, the Election Commission should give a decision on pleas pending before it in such cases immediately," BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar told reporters earlier Wednesday.

First Published: May 31, 2006 10:34 IST