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Pranab Mukherjee puts a question mark on ordinance to shield convicts

A section of the Congress has already voiced reservations against the ordinance.

Written by Express News Service | New Delhi |
September 26, 2013 10:26:24 pm

The fate of the proposed ordinance to bypass the SC ruling on barring convicted MPs and MLAs on Thursday looked uncertain as President Pranab Mukherjee summoned Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Law Minister Kapil Sibal to seek their ‘clarification’.

This surprise move came amid opposition from the BJP,a section of the Congress and questions being raised on the legality of the move. The Cabinet had cleared the ordinance last Tuesday and sent it for the President’s assent.

Mukherjee called the Ministers shortly after a high-level BJP delegation comprising L K Advani and Leaders of the Opposition in both Houses of Parliament Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley met him and requested that he refer the ordinance – which they termed as ‘unconstitutional’- back to the government for reconsideration.

A section of the Congress has already voiced reservations against the ordinance. Ahead of the Cabinet decision,as reported by The Indian Express on Thursday,Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit had called up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to express her disapproval. On Wednesday,Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh also said that a political consensus had to be evolved insead of resorting to the ordinance route. And today Union Minister Milind Deora tweeted: ”Legalities aside,allowing convicted MPs/MLAs (to) retain seats in the midst of an appeal can endanger already eroding public faith in democracy.”

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar slammed the UPA government for bringing the ordinance: “What was the need for bringing an ordinance through backdoor? It would have been better if the amendment bill was passed by Parliament after debate. Such important matters should be comprehensively debated in Parliament and passed after taking opinion of all the parties.”

Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu,too,demanded its withdrawal: ”The Union Cabinet approved the ordinance to rescue convicted MPs and MLAs. It is blatantly shameless – a trademark Congress move. We demand annulment of the ordinance.”

Former Delhi High Court Chief Justice Rajinder Sachar has questioned the ordinance saying,“Is the government taking us back to Emergency days? How can the government bring an ordinance on a clause that has been struck as being unconstitutional by the Supreme Court,not once but twice?”

On July 10,the Supreme Court ruled that an MP or MLA would be immediately disqualified if convicted by a court in a criminal offence with a jail sentence of two years or more. The Supreme Court struck down Section 8 (4) of the Representation of the People Act,1951,which protects convicted legislators from disqualification if they appeal before a higher court within three months.

The BJP memorandum to the President questioned the urgency of the Government to bring in the ordinance. ”The only compelling reason for bypassing parliament and taking the ordinance route is to help a class of tainted politicians already convicted or are apprehensive of a court judgment in near future. That a government can be pressurized by the logic of the tainted speaks volume of the lack of integrity of this government,” said the memorandum terming the ordinance as ‘illegal,immoral and unconstitutional’.

The memorandum also claimed that the move was procedurally ‘improper’ when the matter is already pending before the Standing Committee. The BJP,in this context,claimed that even the ordinance that seeks to amend the RP Act was no less ‘unconstitutional’ as the Supreme Court has declared the original provision in the Act as ultra vires.

‘The proposed Ordinance amending section 8(4) of the Representation of Peoples Act 1951 is as unconstitutional as the original section 8(4),’ the BJP memorandum said requesting President Pranab Mukherjee not to give his assent to the Ordinance.

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