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Centre mulls statute change to stop splits

New Delhi, April 18: The Centre is considering a proposal for a change in the defection law to withdraw the recognition granted to a split in a legislature party if one-third of its members quit.

The Constitution Review Commission, headed by Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, has recommended the change.

Government sources said this would require an amendment to the Constitution, only possible with a two-thirds majority in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The Centre is, therefore, trying to build a political consensus.

“The Congress, too, continuously suffers because of splits in various legislature wings of the party and can be expected to support the move. However, an all-party consensus would be more effective,” the sources said.

Union law minister Arun Jaitley refused to comment, saying he could not give his opinion on a policy matter, particularly when Parliament was in session. But he confirmed that “Justice Venkatachaliah commission’s recommendations have come to the consideration of the government”.

During Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as Prime Minister, Schedule 10 of the Constitution was amended to disqualify legislators constituting less than a third of the party’s strength if they chose to switch sides. However, this gave recognition to defection by one-third of the legislators, which is now considered a legitimate “split”.

The review panel has recommended that even this provision should go as it encourages mass defection, and legislators who quit their parties should be asked to seek fresh election irrespective of their numbers.

At a meeting in Chhattisgarh, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee said the law in its present form encourages defections on a large scale. The proposed change would ensure that even after a one-third split, the new party would have to get a symbol and fight polls to seats declared vacated by the defected members.

The subject came up at the Indore national executive meeting of the BJP earlier this month. Party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu said the anti-defection law was inadequate and needed to be amended.

Jaitley was also quoted on television as saying a Bill could be introduced to amend it.

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