The Supreme Court of India on Friday issued a notice to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to respond to a plea with regard to disqualifying convicted Members of Parliament and Members of State Assemblies/Legislators as per an earlier direction of the apex court.
It may be recalled that in September 2013, the Supreme Court had refused to entertain the central government’s plea seeking a review of its verdict on disqualification of MPs and MLAs on being convicted in a criminal case.
The apex court, however, agreed to hear the Centre’s petition seeking review of its judgment barring arrested persons from contesting elections.
In August of that year, the Union Cabinet had cleared a proposal to allow convicted lawmakers to retain their membership till an appeal is pending before a court while suspending their voting rights.
According to the law ministry’s proposal to amend the Representation of People Act, a Member of Parliament or a Member of a Legislative Assembly can retain membership even after conviction if his or her appeal is pending before a court and sentence is stayed, but he or she shall neither be entitled to vote nor draw salary and allowances.
The move was necessitated after the Supreme Court ruled that a lawmaker should be disqualified in the event of a conviction for an offence attracting a sentence of more than two years.
The law ministry’s proposal then also suggested introducing a new clause to the Constitution to say that a person can contest elections even if he can’t vote. It states that a person cannot cease to be a voter while in detention as his or her right is only temporarily suspended.
It was argued that as the name of the person in jail continues to be on the electoral role, he or she also continues to be an elector and can file nomination for election. Around three years ago, political parties across the board opposed the apex court order, arguing it could be misused to settle scores.
They even suggested that the Supreme Court order was a clear case of “judicial overreach” and argued that the supremacy of Parliament must be maintained and if required, amendments must be brought in the Constitution.