RPA not a cover for convicted MPs, MLAs: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Thursday discarded the government argument that Parliament enacted the Representation of People Act (RPA) to protect convicted MPs and MLAs from disqualification in order to help the House run smoothly.

A bench of Justices A K Patnaik and S J Mukhopadhaya reserved verdict on a couple of PILs seeking directions to strike down Sections 8(4), 9 and 11-A of the RPA on the ground that they were violative of Articles 14, 84, 173 and 326 of the Constitution which, among other things, expressly put a bar on criminals getting registered as voters or becoming MPs/MLAs.

“We cannot imagine that Parliament requires help of convicted members to run the House. If that argument is accepted, Article 100 (dealing with how and by what minimum majority the House can function) will be rendered useless. So, it cannot be argued that Parliament has made this law so that convicted MPs and MLAs can continue in the interest of the House,” the court said.

The court made the observation while examining the constitutional validity of Section 8(4) of the RPA, which gave protection to a lawmaker from disqualification till the time his appeal against his conviction was finally decided.

This was stated to be in contrast to Articles 101 and 102 of the Constitution, which enjoined immediate disqualification upon conviction.

Additional Solicitor General Paras Kuhad, appearing for the Centre, submitted that the law was not to let convicted MPs and MLAs run the House but it was a safeguard against possible errors in conviction orders. The law officer pointed out that the effect of disqualification was not deferred by Section 8 (4) but it defined as to when this effect would set in.

Fresh mandate

“What would happen if a member is disqualified on the date of conviction and is forced to vacate the seat? He can always come back after seeking fresh mandate. Similar is the restriction for a person who wants to contest the election. There are cases where a person is acquitted after serving for years in jail. Such is the system and such is life,” the court observed.Kuhad cited a SC verdict, which had held the protection of Section 8 (4) of the RPA was to protect the House.

Senior advocate Fali S Nariman, appearing for petitioner Lily Thomas, submitted that people’s representatives should be clean as in our Constitution even a voter was precluded from voting if he was held guilty of a crime. “So, the intention of the Constitution clearly is to have a clean and untainted House. To now say, a different law would apply to members, is arbitrary. Moreover, there are adequate protections provided under Article 100 of the Constitution for running the House and no more is required by a law,” he said.

Nariman said that Parliament could have a special protection for its members but it could not be done so by virtue of a law; they would have to bring in a Constitutional amendment. The Centre had  maintained that the provisions of the RPA were necessary to protect the House as in case of wafer-thin majority, it could tend to get dissolved in case of disqualification of some members on wrong convictions.

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