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PM connects with Kalam

New Delhi, May 31: A day after the President returned the office-of-profit bill to Parliament for another look, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reportedly told him the government is ready to “consider” his proposals on the legislation.

A press release issued by the government after the 30-minute talks said the two leaders “discussed current issues of national importance”.

The meeting came on a day the Election Commission said it would “go ahead” with the process of considering disqualification petitions pending against several MPs, including Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, and MLAs. “We have not slowed down,” a source said.

Government sources said A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s decision to withhold assent to the bill ' which was passed earlier this month to amend the Prevention of Disqualification Bill, 1959 ' is not yet on the agenda of Friday’s cabinet meeting. They said it was unlikely the issue would come up as senior ministers like Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh and Shivraj Patil are abroad.

The sources said since Kalam returned the bill for “reconsideration” to Parliament and not to any member of the Union cabinet, it would be “procedural and proper” to put it before both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha when they next meet for the monsoon session.

According to the sources, the law ministry has been directed to “study” Kalam’s message, which raised three points.

One, whether there should be a uniform law on offices of profit. Two, if it was proper to have passed the amendment when several cases were under the poll panel’s scanner. And three, why the amendments should have retrospective effect. The retrospective clause in the bill helped several MPs escape disqualification.

As a “concession” to Kalam, the sources said, the government could bring in a “cosmetic” change or two if and when the bill is “reconsidered”.

Singh made it clear the Centre would go by the “sense” of both Houses. And if the majority of the members feel the bill should be re-enacted in its present form, the presiding officers would go by the consensus. In that case, the President, whose assent is needed for a legislation to become law, will have to endorse the bill.

Singh was miffed with law minister H.R. Bhardwaj for “jumping the gun” and telling the press there was nothing wrong with the bill.

Government and Congress sources said there was “no point” in getting into a confrontation with either the President or the Election Commission and add grist to the Opposition’s campaign of how “disrespectful” the ruling alliance was towards constitutional offices.

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