Punjab Agriculture Minister Tota Singh (73), who has been given ticket by the Shiromani Akali Dal to contets ther Assembly election from Dharamkot, is barred from contesting according to The Representation of the People Act, 1951, as he has been convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act in 2012. In order to please its senior leaders, it seems SAD, in its first list of 69 candidates released on Wednesday, did not even bother to check the conviction of its senior leaders under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
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The Indian Express had reported on Friday how the Dal has offered ticket to former Cabinet minister Sucha Singh Langah (67) from Dera Baba Nanak but the law prohibits him from contesting elections because of his conviction and three years’ sentence in a disproportionate assets case under the Prevention of Corruption Act by the Mohali district court in February 2015.
Tota Singh was convicted and sentenced for one year’s rigorous imprisonment and slapped with a fine of Rs 30,000 under the Prevention of Corruption Act on May 5, 2012, for misusing the official vehicle of Punjab School Education Board (PSEB) by the Mohali district court. He had then moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court which in turn had on May 17, 2012, suspended Singh’s sentence during pendency of appeal. But his conviction has not been suspended. Tota Singh had undergone one month and 22 days of actual sentence when he was allowed by the High Court to furnish bail bonds to the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Mohali. Tota Singh’s appeal against the Mohali district court verdict is still pending in the HC.
“Mere conviction under the Prevention of Corruption Act disqualifies a person from contesting election irrespective of the fact whether he has been just fined or sentenced even for a single day,” said Satya Pal Jain, senior advocate and expert on election and constitutional matters. He added that in a corruption case, it is not mandatory for the purpose of disqualification that a convict should have been sentenced to imprisonment for a minimum of two years, like in other offences.
Another HC advocate Surjit Singh Swaich, who has contested several election petitions, says, “If a person is convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act, he is automatically disqualified to contest election if his conviction is not stayed by the higher court.”
Section 8(1) of Representation of the People Act, 1951, reads, “A person convicted of an offence punishable under…the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988,…shall be disqualified, where the convicted person is sentenced to (i) only fine, for a period of six years from the date of such conviction; (ii) imprisonment, from the date of such conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years since his release.”
Tota Singh had resigned from the Cabinet after his conviction in 2012 but was reinstated after about an year. He is also facing allegations of corruption pertaining to forgery and fabrication of documents relating to recruitment of 138 clerks in the PSEB before the Mohali special court. The minister was also under attack when then officiating Punjab agriculture director Mangal Singh Sandhu was arrested last year allegedly for his involvement in purchasing pesticides worth crores which failed to control the whitefly attack on cotton crop.
The Indian Express had earlier reported that how ahead of elections, the Punjab government had on October 5 filed an application to withdraw prosecution proceedings against Tota Singh in a corruption case regarding recruitment of 134 clerks in the Punjab School Education Board in 2000 and 2001, when he was education minister. But the Mohali district court had on November 9 rejected the government’s application and fixed hearing of the case for November 30.
Despite repeated attempts, Tota Singh did not respond to calls and text messages.