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EC to put profit pleas on fast track

New Delhi, May 31: A day after President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam returned the controversial office-of-profit bill to Parliament, the Election Commission today decided to expedite the pending cases against several MPs, including Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, and MLAs.

The commission had gone slow on the disqualification petitions after the two Houses of Parliament passed the office-of-profit bill. But it would now speed up and, in some cases, fix hearings, sources said.

Disqualification petitions against 45 MPs and over 200 MLAs, including some chief ministers, have been filed before the commission.

If it were to take action against all of them, the UPA government would be reduced to a thin majority in the Lok Sabha. For, 29 of the 45 MPs are from the Lok Sabha: 19 belong to the UPA and the Left parties and 10 to the Opposition.

In the event of disqualification of all these 29 MPs, the strength of the Lok Sabha would be reduced to 513 and that of the UPA and Left combine would go down from the existing 283 to 264.

The disqualification proceedings, however, may take months to complete, giving the government enough time to get the bill passed in Parliament in the monsoon session. If Parliament clears the bill and sends it back to the President, he will have to give his assent to it.

Finding an opportunity to further embarrass the government, a delegation of the National Democratic Alliance today petitioned the commission to act immediately on pleas to disqualify lawmakers who have been accused of holding posts that can be considered offices of profit.

Alleging bias in dealing with the office-of-profit complaints, the NDA memorandum to the commission said: “The discriminatory treatment in respect of members of Parliament and legislature wherein some of them are being proceeded against while others are protected will appear to attract provisions of Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution, which provide for equality before law, equal protection of laws and non-discrimination.”

Targeting Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the NDA delegation questioned whether an MP accused of holding an office-of-profit can “escape” disqualification by resigning.

“We asked the Election Commission that while one member is disqualified retrospectively, how another member, similarly placed, can escape disqualification either by resigning or being protected by the passage of time till a corrective law is promulgated,” BJP leader L.K. Advani said after the team submitted the memorandum.

Besides Advani, NDA convener George Fernandes, BJP leaders Rajnath Singh, Jaswant Singh and Sushma Swaraj and Janata Dal (United)’s Digvijay Singh were part of the delegation.

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