Underlining the “unwholesome influence” that money power exerts on Indian politics, the Supreme Court has ruled that a legislator shall stand disqualified not only if he has a business contract with the government and its instrumentalities at the time of filing nomination papers, but also if he does so after he is elected.
A bench led by Justice J Chelameswar said that the purity of legislative process had to be considered paramount and the pertinent provision in the Representation of the People Act ought to be interpreted in a manner so as to “avoid conflict of personal interest and duty of the legislators.”
Section 9A in the Act states that a person shall be disqualified if, and for so long as, there “subsists” a contract by him with the appropriate government. The bench said that the word “subsists” cannot be construed to mean that a person will not be allowed to contest only if he has a contract with the government at the time of polls.
“The purpose of Section 9A is to maintain the purity of the legislature. It would be strange logic that persons with a subsisting contract with the government are perceived to be undesirable to become members of the legislature as there is a likelihood of conflict between their duty as legislators and their personal interest as contractors, but legislators can enter into contracts with the government with impunity,” said the bench.
It also clarified its previous judgments over “office of profit” wherein the top court had taken the view that the expression should not be construed in a way that would shut out many prominent and eligible persons from contesting the election.
“The observations made by this court in the context of ‘office of profit’ may not be extended to the cases of the persons with subsisting contracts with the government without any further scrutiny. We can’t close our eyes to the reality of the unwholesome influence which money power exerts on the political system in this country.
“Any interpretation of Section 9A which goes to assist a legislator who directly enters into a contractual relationship with the state for deriving monetary benefits (in some cases of enormous proportions) should be avoided and be given a construction which as far as possible eliminates the possibility of creating such situation where the duty is certainly bound to conflict with personal interest,” it held.
The relevant judgment came as the bench upheld disqualification of BJP MLA Bajrang Bahadur Singh from Pharenda constituency in Uttar Pradesh over taking government contracts even after being elected. The Governor had issued the disqualification order on January 29, which Singh had challenged.
While holding that the Governor’s order was appealable, it also removed an anomalous situation wherein the Election Commission was obligated to conduct a by-poll to fill up the vacant seat within six months but the decision on the appeal in the court could take longer. The bench fixed a time-frame of 16 weeks for a disqualified legislator to challenge the Governor’s order and a subsequent decision by the high court concerned.