The Union Cabinet on Tuesday, negating a Supreme Court ruling, cleared an ordinance that will protect convicted MPs and MLAs from immediate disqualification, provided their appeal against the conviction and sentence is admitted by a higher court within 90 days, and both the conviction and the sentence are stayed. Till the matter is settled, the MP or the MLA, the ordinance says, will not be entitled to vote nor draw a salary and allowances, but may continue to participate in the proceedings of Parliament or State Legislatures, as the case may be.
Significantly, this comes six days ahead of a possible conviction of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav: the special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court dealing with a case relating to the fraudulent withdrawal of Rs. 37 crores from the Chaibasa treasury in the 1996 fodder scam, that has completed its hearings, has reserved its order for September 30.
However, Union Law Minister Kapil Sibal told The Hindu that the government, while clearing the ordinance, had simultaneously written to the chairperson of the Rajya Sabha — where the bill was introduced — to send it to the Standing Committee of Parliament. Mr. Sibal said that if the opposition introduced any changes in the bill in the Standing Committee, the Union cabinet would look at those and incorporate them in the bill that he says will come before the winter session of Parliament.
This is because the ordinance also comes just over a fortnight after the BJP changed its position on The Representation of the People (Second Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2013 — on which this ordinance is based — in the recent monsoon session of Parliament. The BJP had initially agreed to help the government pass this bill. But the principal opposition party later had a change of heart, Congress sources allege, when it realised this might help Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav.
However, the BJP did cooperate with the UPA government to pass The Representation of the People (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2013 which deals with those in lawful custody but not convicted. The central argument propounded in favour of this bill was that in politics, false cases are often filed against rivals, and, therefore, mere arrest cannot be sufficient cause for making a legislator resign, or prevent him — or her — from contesting the elections.
Indeed, it was one of the two bills that were drafted in the wake of the Supreme Court judgment of July 10 that pronounced that sitting legislators either jailed on charges, or after conviction, would have to resign their seats forthwith.
The bill relating to those jailed on charges was cleared by Parliament; the one relating to those convicted has now been converted into an ordinance.
However, while the ordinance will help convicted MLAs and MPs retain their seats, it cannot help them to contest elections again: for that they would have to go to court once more to seek a stay again on the sentence and conviction, as the BJP MP from Amritsar, Navjot Singh Sidhu, did after he was convicted of murder in 2006. He resigned his seat, but the following year in 2007, he went to the Supreme Court, got a stay on his conviction and sentence and fought a by-election. In the hypothetical case of Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav getting convicted on September 30, he would have to first seek a stay on his conviction and sentence to retain his seat — if, thereafter, he wishes to contest in 2014, he would have to go back to court again to seek another stay.