| A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
New Delhi, May 30: President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam stunned the political establishment this evening by returning the office of profit bill to Parliament for “reconsideration”.
The President seems to be having misgivings about the retrospective clause in the bill, which helped several MPs escape disqualification.
The original piece of legislation ' called the Prevention of Disqualification bill, 1959 ' was amended earlier this month at a special sitting of Parliament to incorporate posts that would be exempt from the list of offices of profit.
The amendment was passed in haste to ensure that members of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha could continue holding posts without risking disqualification. The disqualification of Jaya Bachchan and the subsequent resignation of Sonia Gandhi to steer clear of a similar fate had triggered the unusual rush to get the amendment passed.
The 56 posts exempt include that of the chairperson of the National Advisory Council (NAC), which was held by Sonia, and the chair of the Santiniketan-Sriniketan Development Authority, occupied by Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee.
Both Houses of Parliament had passed the amendment bill but the President’s assent is needed for the legislation to become law.
Kalam returned the bill ' only twice before has any President done so ' with questions on two points after reportedly holding “wide-ranging judicial and legal consultations”.
One, whether the bill had a “comprehensive criteria for the just, fair and reasonable application (of the law) across the states and Union territories in a clear and transparent manner”.
Two, the “soundness and propriety” of making it applicable with retrospective effect.
It is the second point that is bothering the government. Sources said if the amendments were enacted with prospective effect, several MPs against whom complaints were already filed would have found themselves in a grey area.
In some cases, where the deemed office of profit include payment of salaries and perks, such a provision would mean the member concerned will have to return them.
Rashtrapati Bhavan sources said the President returned the bill to the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Rajya Sabha chairman. The Speaker’s office will forward the bill to the law ministry with the President’s message. The Prime Minister is expected to meet the President tomorrow.
Since the bill was first moved in the Lok Sabha, the same House will now have to take it up when it meets again for the monsoon session in mid-July.
The Speaker will read out the President’s message and seek the response of the House. If the majority of the members are against a review, it will be sent to the Rajya Sabha to obtain the collective “sense” of the Elders.
If Parliament decides that the bill will be passed in its present form, it will go back to the President. He will have to give his assent the second time, according to constitutional norms.
The BJP, which had taken an ambiguous stand on the bill, said that the “government has been rightly rapped on the knuckles”. The poll panel should immediately disqualify all the violators, it said.