Section 8 (4) of Representation of the People Act Constitutionally Invalid
There cannot be two different sets of rule- one for the people constituting the ruled class and other for the elected elite comprising of MPs and MLAs, constituting the ruling class. But this is the crowning irony which most unfortunately has been going on since independence. There should be more strict rules for MPs and MLAs as they are the elected representatives who have to be more accountable, but what we see in India is just the opposite! Most shameful and disgraceful!
What an irony? To become an army officer or judge or for any other government job, a proper police verification is done, but to become an MP or MLA, you can murder thousands of innocents, rape women, even be named in extortion or robbery cases and yet the doors of Parliament and Vidhan Sabhas welcome you with folded hands ! Like Phoolan Devi, you can murder scores of people and yet become an MP! Nothing on earth can be more shameful than this! But our political class is not at all prepared to say, “Enough is enough! No more any person who has any serious case pending against him/her shall be allotted party ticket and the oft-repeated pernicious argument that the case is politically-motivated shall not be accepted under any circumstances. Laws should be amended in this regard to bar such criminals from entering politics.”
Those accused of heinous crimes like rape and murder are made not just MPS and MLAs, but ministers holding important portfolios. Not a single leader in India in power since 1947 has seriously addressed this malaise corroding our nation from within. Not surprisingly, too often MPs and MLAs caught on wrong foot by indulging in rowdy behavior, get away with them. Things have come to such a pass that now they have started holding talks with terrorists, use political clouts to withdraw terror cases against them, refuse to hang terrorists and rapists even after they are convicted by the Supreme Court and their mercy petitions keep dragging for decades and all this happens in the name of “due process of law” and “let the law take its own course”.
The Supreme Court on January 10, 2013 posed a serious question to Centre, “Should a sitting MP or MLA, convicted of a heinous crime, be treated differently from a common citizen held guilty by the court on similar count?” It also sought a detailed response on the constitutional validity of Section 8 (4) of Representation of the People Act which permits for special treatment for elected representatives.
The Section 8 lists serious offences and stipulates that any person convicted for any of those and sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more will be debarred from contesting elections, and that the disqualification should remain in force from the date of conviction until six years after the release from prison. Strict rules applicable for joining army or police or judiciary or any other public service should also be equally applicable to the MPs and the MLAs. But sadly, this can never be possible because those having criminal cases pending against them even though in minority, remotely control the majority and will never allow such legislation to take effect even in embryonic stage.
Not surprising that the bench, too, agreed that there has to be constitutional solution to this issue and said it would examine the constitutional validity of Section 8 (4) of the Act, as prima facie it appeared that a common man remained convicted till the appellate court absolved him, but an MP or MLA did not face the rigour of conviction merely by filing an appeal. The Supreme Court asked the Centre to file its response within four weeks. It was not much convinced by the contention of the Additional Solicitor General Paras Kuhad that the issue was settled in 2005 by a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court which had observed that given the razor-thin majority enjoyed by ruling dispensation, if MPs and MLAs were disqualified on their conviction during the tenure of the House, then the democratically elected government could face serious problems. This dubious double standards must now end once and for all. The MPs and the MLAs whether sitting or fresh must be subjected to the same parameters as any other in public service, like army, police and judiciary. This obviously does not suit the political class. But, can their interest be above national interests?
By Sanjeev Sirohi