Three convicted MPs, including RJD chief Lalu Prasad, are all set to face disqualification if the government fails to promulgate the ordinance to legalise Section 8 (4) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, that was declared ultra vires by the Supreme Court on July 10.
While Janata Dal (United) MP from Jahanabad (Bihar) Jagadish Sharma too was convicted in the fodder scam on Monday by the Special CBI court in Ranchi, along with Mr. Prasad (elected from Chapra in Bihar), Rajya Sabha member from Uttar Pradesh Rasheed Masood (Congress) was convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PC Act) and other IPC Sections on September 20 here by another Special CBI court. Interestingly, Mr. Masood, who was in the Samajwadi Party earlier, was the candidate for the vice-presidential poll in 2007 representing the then United National Progressive Alliance.
Though the quantum of sentence for the three MPs is yet to be announced (sentence for Mr. Masood to be announced on Tuesday), informed sources said since they had been convicted under the PC Act, they could be straightaway disqualified irrespective of the quantum of sentence, as per the Supreme Court order.
In case the ordinance is promulgated, despite reservations expressed by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Mr. Prasad and Mr. Sharma can hold the Lok Sabha membership until they continue to be members of the present House, and for Mr. Masood till 2016 (when he will complete his term) as the Upper House is a continuous body. However, all the three MPs, unless acquitted by the appeal court, cannot contest polls for six years from the date of release from their prison term (if they are sentenced to imprisonment). i.e., they will enjoy protection under Section 8 (4) of the RP Act only till their current parliament membership expired.
If no ordinance is issued, then the respective head of the Houses — Lok Sabha Speaker and Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman — upon receiving the certified copies of the verdict, can issue an order announcing their disqualification and declare their seats vacant.
The former Lok Sabha Secretary-General and constitutional expert, P.D.T. Achary, did not see anything wrong in the parliamentarians/legislators enjoying certain privileges in the interests of the country as the Supreme Court itself had allowed “class legislations” or special dispensation for a particular set of people in so many cases.
He recalled that a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court had observed: “Section 8 (4) of the RP Act is an exception. Once elections have been held and a House has come into existence, it may be that a member is convicted and sentenced. Such a situation needs to be dealt with on a different footing. Here the stress is not merely on the right of an individual to contest an election or to continue as a member of a House, but the very existence and continuity of a House democratically constituted.”
Mr. Achary felt experts would not have failed to examine the repercussions before bringing the Bill to amend the RP Act, 1951, relating to Section 8 (4), when it was approved by Parliament on March 15, 1989.