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Jaya sparks law change move

New Delhi, March 21: The government is under pressure to redefine what constitutes an office of profit after the disqualification of Jaya Bachchan from the Rajya Sabha.

MPs of various parties have urged ministers, including law minister H.R. Bhardwaj, to amend the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1959, to list all the offices of profit instead of only specifying those that are not.

Jaya lost her membership for holding an office of profit and all parties are worried that the fate may befall their MPs too.

BJP sources said Bhardwaj had asked their leaders for a list of what they deemed were offices of profit and had informed them that the government was planning to amend the law in this session.

Bhardwaj could not be reached, but two senior ministers said there was “pressure to do something about the act”, though the exercise would be “tricky”. If the act were to itemise every office of profit, it would be like compiling an encyclopaedia.

There are three yardsticks to decree what constitutes an office of profit: whether the holder draws any remuneration other than compensatory allowance from the government; two, whether the office exercises executive, legislative, judicial and financial powers; and whether it wields influence and power by way of patronage.

Government sources said the parameters were “clear and comprehensive” and in Jaya’s case, it was either an “oversight” or a “failure” to read the law in text and spirit that landed her in a mess.

The sources added that the grey areas lay elsewhere. They questioned if the Election Commission was the competent authority to recommend disqualification because it was meant to conduct elections and not to sit in judgment on what the MPs did thereafter.

An election can be challenged in a court of law within 60 days of a person being declared elected. Beyond that a complainant can only move the Election Commission. Therefore, the sources felt, if the EC’s jurisdiction had to be curtailed, the time frame for petitioning a court must be enlarged.

Amid discussions over legal niceties, the BJP suggested that the “government-inspired” move to revisit the law was meant to protect Sonia Gandhi from risking disqualification for allegedly holding an office of profit as head of the National Advisory Council (NAC).

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi responded by saying Sonia neither held an office nor received a profit nor was the NAC under the government “in any manner”.

But there are other Congress MPs who are “vulnerable”, like T. Subbirami Reddy and Karan Singh.

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