New Delhi: Convicted lawmakers cannot be debarred from contesting elections for life, the Centre told the Supreme Court yesterday in response to a petition that sought convicted legislators to be treated on par with convicted bureaucrats, who are debarred for life from Government service.
Making a distinction between bureaucrats and Members of Parliament (MPs) or State Legislatures (MLAs) who are convicted of serious offences under the Indian Penal Code or other special laws, an affidavit filed by the Ministry of Law and Justice said that while public servants were governed by “service conditions,” such conditions do not exist for lawmakers.
Instead, MPs and MLAs are governed by the Representation of the People Act (RP Act), which prescribes a six-year disqualification from contesting polls for an offence that is punishable with a prison sentence of two years and above.
The affidavit came in response to an application moved in a pending PIL filed by lawyer and BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.
The Centre’s stand differs from that taken by the Election Commission, which endorsed a life ban as necessary to champion the cause of decriminalisation of politics.
In his main petition, Upadhyay had sought debarment of convicted lawmakers for life. However, in the application, he added a subsequent prayer, challenging the validity of Sections 8(1), 8(2), 8(3) and 9(1) of RP Act, 1951, which disqualifies a convicted Legislator for a period of six years and five years (under Section 9(1)).
Upadhyay questioned the different standards of punishment for convicted lawmakers on one hand and convicted public servants on the other and demanded that the same rule of debarment must be applied to MLAs/MPs on contesting elections or for heading a political party.
Upadhyay argued that while a public servant or a government employee is debarred for life on conviction for offences under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), money laundering law, foreign exchange violation, UAPA or cheque cases, among other laws, a Legislator is “only disqualified for the same offences for a specified period.”
The Centre’s affidavit says: “There are no specific service conditions laid down in respect of elected representatives albeit, the fact that the people’s representatives are public servants. The elected representatives are ordinarily bound by the oath that they have taken to serve the citizens of their Constituency in particular and the country in general. Their conduct is bound by propriety, good conscience and they are expected to generally work in the interest of the nation.”
The affidavit said that while the issue of debarment for life was pending in the main petition filed by Upadhyay, there was no need to entertain the amended application, which challenged the RPA provisions with regard to disqualification of MPs/MLAs.