New Delhi, Oct. 3: The judge handed down the punishment today, but Lalu Prasad’s disqualification as an MP had already become effective three days back.
The Supreme Court has left no room for doubt: legislators stand automatically disqualified the moment they are convicted. There is no need for the President, the governor concerned or the Speaker, as the case may be, to declare them disqualified.
The court had settled the question whether legislators would be disqualified from the date of conviction or the day of sentencing on July 10 when it quashed as unconstitutional Section 8(4) of the Representation of People Act, which granted lawmakers a three-month elbowroom to appeal.
So Lalu Prasad, convicted in a fodder scam case on September 30, stood automatically disqualified on that day itself, though the CBI special judge sentenced the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief to five years in jail today.
Ditto for Rasheed Masood, a Rajya Sabha MP who was last month found guilty and sentenced this week for misusing his office as a minister in 1990.
At the hearings that preceded the July 10 judgment, additional solicitor-general Paras Kuhad had forcefully argued that the power to declare a legislator disqualified was vested only with the President or the governor of the state concerned.
The bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and S.J. Mukhopadhyaya did not agree. “We cannot … accept the submission of Mr Kuhad that until the decision is taken by the President or Governor on whether a member of Parliament or State Legislature has become subject to any of the disqualifications mentioned in clause (1) of Article 102 and Article 191 of the Constitution, the seat of the member alleged to have been disqualified will not become vacant under Articles 101(3)(a) and 190(3)(a) of the Constitution.
“Hence, the seat of a member who becomes subject to any of the disqualifications mentioned in clause (1) will fall vacant on the date on which the member incurs the disqualification and cannot await the decision of the President or the Governor, as the case may be, under Articles 103 and 192 respectively of the Constitution,” the bench ruled.
According to the court, Articles 101(3)(a) and 190(3)(a) limited the powers of Parliament to defer the date on which disqualifications would take effect.
“Accordingly, sub-section (4) of Section 8 of the (Representation of People) Act, which carves out a saving in the case of sitting members of Parliament or State Legislature(s) from disqualifications under sub-sections (1), (2) and (3)… or which defers the date on which the disqualification will take effect … is beyond the powers conferred on Parliament by the Constitution,” the bench said.
“We also hold that the provisions of Article 101(3)(a) and 190(3)(a) of the Constitution expressly prohibit Parliament (and state legislatures) to defer the date from which the disqualification will come into effect…
“Parliament, therefore, has exceeded its powers conferred by the Constitution in enacting sub-section (4) of Section 8…” the bench ruled while quashing the provision.
The court, however, clarified that the decision on filling seats that fall vacant may await the President or the governor’s nod under Articles 103 and 192.