Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang, in all likelihood, will retain his post as the Election Commission (EC) ruled in his favour on Sunday, reducing the period of his disqualification by almost five years.
As first reported by The Indian Express on July 29, Tamang had requested the EC to waive the remaining period of his disqualification under Section 11 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The last time the EC reduced a person’s disqualification period was in 1977.
Tamang was appointed Chief Minister on May 27, after his Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) defeated the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) in the Assembly elections in April. SKM is part of the ruling NDA at the Centre.
Tamang was barred from contesting polls following his disqualification for six years, after he was found guilty of misappropriating government funds in a cow distribution scheme while he was the minister of animal husbandry in the 1990s. The disqualification period began on August 10, 2018 — the day he completed a year’s jail term in the case. It was to end on August 10, 2024, but the EC, on Sunday, reduced it to one year and one month. In other words, his disqualification ended on September 10.
Tamang, who has to be elected to the State Assembly within six months of becoming the Chief Minister, now has enough time to contest elections before the deadline ends.
The poll panel’s decision comes four days after Tamang urged the EC to take a call before September 30.
The EC justified its decision on the ground that Tamang was convicted of an offence committed in 1996-97, when a minimum punishment of two years was warranted under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, for attracting the six-year disqualification. Tamang was imprisoned for a year. The EC also noted that he had already served his sentence, and hence, his case merited a disqualification waiver.
“It is pertinent to note that the present applicant neither approached this Commission to seek removal of his disqualification nor filed his nomination paper at the time of the General Elections to Legislative Assembly of Sikkim, 2019. He has, in fact, approached this Commission only when the elected representatives of his party, commanding a clear majority in the Assembly of Sikkim, posed their faith in his leadership and when the Governor, in recognition of the same, invited him to form government,” the EC said in its order.
Citing a previous case, it said: “In the case of Shri Shyam Narain Tewari, a person who wrongly contested the election, this Commission gave due weightage to the mandate of the people and, in respect of the same, it removed the disqualification of a man who was originally sentenced to death.”
Tewari, an MLA from Uttar Pradesh, was convicted and sentenced to death for a murder in the 1970s. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment given the long wait in carrying out death sentences. Eventually, he was released after four years of imprisonment. Tewari contested elections in 1977 without approaching the Commission. The EC, giving due weight to people’s mandate, agreed to waive the remaining period of his disqualification.