|Kapil Sibal has denied that the ordinance was passed
to shield Lalu Prasad (in picture), who is facing verdict in the fodder case on Monday
New Delhi, Sept. 24: The cabinet today cleared an ordinance that will shield convicted lawmakers from automatic disqualification, the move coming days before the verdict is announced in a criminal case involving Lalu Prasad.
“Our intention is not to protect (lawmakers) but there has to be a balance. At times, a judgment (conviction) may be wrong which can be appealed against,” Union law minister Kapil Sibal told reporters.
“I am bringing inů (the ordinance), otherwise they (convicted lawmakers) will all be finished.”
On July 10, the Supreme Court had ruled that any member of Parliament or a state legislature would lose their seat the moment they are convicted in a criminal case.
It set aside as unconstitutional Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act that allowed convicted lawmakers three months’ time to file an appeal and obtain a stay on the conviction.
The ordinance restores the three-month grace period and is likely to be notified in the next two days, official sources said.
The UPA government had originally intended to enact the shield as a law. The ordinance was conceived because the bill could not be passed in Parliament in the recently ended session.
Sibal denied that the ordinance was being rushed through to protect Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad and convicted Congress MP Rashid Masood.
On September 30, a CBI court will deliver its verdict on Lalu Prasad’s alleged involvement in the 1990s fodder scam, which took place when he was Bihar chief minister.
Former National Front minister Rashid Masood was recently held guilty of fraudulently nominating ineligible candidates to MBBS seats allotted to Tripura in medical colleges across the country.
Although the ordinance allows legislators to attend House proceedings after conviction as long as they obtain a stay within 90 days, they cannot vote or draw their salary till they are acquitted. If the appeal is rejected, they lose their seat immediately.
“The law has to be reasonable, fair and just. You just can’t be disqualified like that,” Sibal said.
The apex court had earlier rejected the government’s plea for a review of its July 10 judgment.
All political parties then rallied round so that a bill could be brought in during Parliament’s monsoon session to circumvent the judgment.
The Representation of the People (Second Amendment) Bill, 2013, was formally introduced in the Rajya Sabha but certain technicalities prevented it being passed.
Sibal confirmed the ordinance was a stopgap arrangement till Parliament passes the bill. He said political parties would be free to make suggestions for amendments to the bill.
“If the standing committee says, ‘Amend the bill’, we will amend it,” he said.
“In the interim, people have to be protected. Otherwise they will lose their membership.”