Television footage of Arun Jaitley in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Aug. 27: The Rajya Sabha today cleared a bill to nullify a recent Supreme Court ruling that would have made persons in custody ineligible to contest elections to Parliament or state legislatures.
The Representation of the People (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2013, was passed by voice vote amid support from all parties.
The Representation of People Act, 1951 has a provision, Section 62(5), that takes away the voting right a person in jail, whether sentenced or facing trial, except in preventive detention.
Last month, the court upheld a Patna High Court order that a person denied voting rights under the section cannot contest elections. The judgment fanned worries that leaders framed and put in custody would lose voting rights and, with it, the freedom to contest.
Law minister Kapil Sibal introduced the bill saying a proviso had been added to Section 62(5). It says that once on the electoral rolls, a person shall not cease to be a voter. The bill, if passed by the Lok Sabha, will take effect retrospectively from July 10, 2013, the day the court verdict came.
As the name of a jailed person continues to be on the rolls, he or she remains an elector and can file nominations for an election, the bill says. “By reason of the prohibition to vote under this sub-section, a person whose name has been entered in the electoral roll shall not cease to be an elector.”
Sibal said the genesis of the case was “decriminalisation of politics” and suggested politicians were working towards the goal. “The political class is, perhaps, the most accountable class in the country. It is accountable to people, to Parliament, to Election Commission and to court.”
“It is we who have passed anti-defection law and made declarations of assets mandatory for contesting elections. We have furthered the process of accountability. How many institutions in the country have done that?” Sibal asked.
The minister did not mention courts. But his comments may be seen by some as directed at judges who have been reluctant to declare assets.
The BJP’s Arun Jaitley, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said the judgment amounted to making the police the arbiter to decide who can contest elections. As law and order is a state subject, the police could be misused to frame leaders in some cases and put them in custody, he said.
“If the police pick up somebody on the eve of elections, he will be disqualified. We do not want that kind of a situation,” Jaitley added.
The BSP’s Satish Chandra Mishra also weighed in on the debate, arguing that the ruling could be misused by parties in power to deny rival leaders the right to contest.
The bill will now go to the Lok Sabha.