Parties cautious over apex court rule on electoral law

Centre may call an all-party meet to discuss apex court rulings

Hit by two successive Supreme Court verdicts on electoral law, the Centre is now contemplating convening an all-party meeting to formulate a uniform opinion that could help overcome the hurdles.

The two rulings in the last two days — lawmakers losing their seats immediately after conviction by a trial court, and jailed people losing the right to contest — have stirred a hornet's nest.

The Congress-led UPA government, which is accused by opposition parties of not consulting them on contentious issues, may call an all-party meeting to discuss the rulings, which have a far-reaching impact in cleaning up legislatures.

“We are scrutinising the judgments. Once we read the decisions carefully and discuss with other parties, we will comment,” said Union Law Minister Kapil Sibal.

The Congress is of the view that the public views the verdicts as a positive step to decriminalise politics, and a decision to challenge the ruling has to come from an all-party meeting. During arguments in the case in Supreme Court, the government favoured the privilege of lawmakers against immediate disqualification.

Though the parties are not publicly commenting against the judgment on disqualifying MPs and MLAs upon conviction, they have expressed reservations about the ruling barring jailed people from contesting, saying that it could be misused.

BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said his party was always for decriminalising politics, and that they welcome the judgment on disqualifying the lawmakers who are convicted. However, on the verdict banning jailed people from contesting, he said that the party would comment after studying the ruling.

The CPM has reacted sharply to the two verdicts, describing the order banning jailed persons from contesting as “drastic”. It also demanded that the judgment on immediately disqualifying lawmakers convicted by courts be “clarified through a review”.

The Supreme Court had said that a person in jail or police custody, even if he is not charge-sheeted or convicted, will not be able to contest elections. This, political leaders fear, could be used against them by opponents.

“There are a number of false cases which are foisted on political activists… This judgment can lead to large-scale misuse. Ruling parties and governments can get people behind bars in order to prevent them from contesting elections. The judgment is a case of judicial overreach and requires to be overturned,” said the CPM in a statement.

Though the party called the judgment on disqualification of lawmakers on conviction “good and laudable”, it raised concerns on the matter saying if a member is disqualified instantly and secures an acquittal later from a higher court, there will be no scope for redressal.

“It is necessary to look into this aspect and other issues raised by the judgment. Therefore, the judgment needs to be clarified by a review,” it said.

Samajwadi Party leader Mohan Singh echoed the views, saying that the order banning convicts as elected representatives was fine but the second order, which bans a person in jail from contesting polls, needs further elaboration.

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