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Court lens on tainted leaders

New Delhi, Dec. 4: The Supreme Court today agreed to examine a PIL seeking quashing of a provision in the Representation of the People Act (RPA) that allows people convicted of criminal offences to continue as MPs or state legislators.

A bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and H.L. Gokhale, which briefly heard the submission of jurist Fali Nariman, said it would take up the matter for further consideration on January 8 as it involves substantial questions of constitutional and other statutory provisions.

The petition was filed in 2005 and came up for hearing today.

The PIL was filed by advocate Lily Thomas, 85, who contended that Section 8 of the RPA that grants such immunity to elected members violates Article 326 of the Constitution. Article 326 bars citizens with a criminal background or guilty of corrupt practices from being voters or candidates in elections.

Appearing before the bench, Nariman said that under Section 8(3) of the RPA, where a person is convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years, he or she stands disqualified from the date of such conviction and continues to be disqualified for a further six years.

But Section 8(4) provides that notwithstanding anything in Section 8(3), in the case of a person who on the date of the conviction is a member of Parliament or the legislature of a state, the disqualification shall not take effect until three months have lapsed from that date or, if within that period of three months an appeal or an application for revision is brought in respect of the conviction or the sentence, until that appeal or application is disposed of.

“This violates Article 14 (equality before law) of the Constitution…” Thomas contended. An ordinary citizen doesn’t get three months to file an appeal.