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Kalam signs bill, just in time

New Delhi, Aug. 18: President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam signed the office of profit bill today, letting several MPs and the government heave a sigh of relief.

The President took 18 days to give his endorsement after Parliament re-legislated the bill he returned unsigned the first time because of certain reservations.

Kalam inked the bill a day after the government announced it would set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee to examine the three proposals he had mooted.

The consent came in the nick of time for several CPM members, including Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, against whom complaints have been filed with the Election Commission. The poll panel started proceedings by sending a notice today to the petitioner, a Trinamul Congress activist, unaware that the President would be signing the bill later in the day.

The bill exempts several posts from disqualification, which should help at least 40 MPs retain their seats. The commission will now scour the bill to see whether the posts held by the MPs have been specifically mentioned. Government sources said they have.

Kalam had recommended evolving a comprehensive definition of what an “office of profit” was, devising generic and comprehensive criteria covering all states and Union territories and making the law applicable with prospective and not retrospective effect.

Law minister H.R. Bhardwaj said the JPC would look into the first two suggestions. But it will not go into whether the law should come into force retrospectively or prospectively.

The sources said the Prime Minister had raised the bill with the President at two meetings, the last on August 15. The President was “gently” reminded of the constitutional obligation to sign a bill when it is sent back by Parliament.

But Kalam was also assured that the government, which had already made a commitment in Parliament to form the JPC, would speed up the process.

The government, the sources said, felt that such a measure was necessary because of a perception that politicians had closed ranks to save their skins.

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