The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Convicted MLAs' poll hope sinks

New Delhi, Jan. 12: The going got tough for convicted MLAs: they will no longer be able to exploit a loophole in the election law to file nominations to the Assembly a second time.

The Supreme Court has ruled that no sitting MLA can run for a second stint if he or she is convicted in a criminal case for two years during his/her term.

Legislators had so far been exploiting a provision, which said they had three months to appeal against a conviction and that during the pendency of the appeal, they would not be disqualified from contesting. Yesterday, a five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court plugged the loophole, ruling that convicted MLAs could avail of the provision only till an Assembly was 'alive'.

Once it is dissolved and fresh elections are called, they cannot file nominations if convicted. The ruling will drastically alter the profile of sitting MLAs filing nominations for the Bihar, Jharkhand and Haryana Assemblies going to the poll next month.

'The saving from disqualification is preconditioned by the person convicted of being a member of a House on the date of conviction. The benefit of such saving is available only so long as the House continues to exist and the person continues to be a member of a House.

'The saving ceases to apply if the House is dissolved or the person ceases to be a member of the House,' the bench presided by Chief Justice of India R.C. Lahoti said.

The judges also held in case of an MLA convicted in two or more cases, the periods of the separate sentences should be added up to arrive at a total figure. If the period of each sentence is less than two years, but cumulatively adds up to two, the MLA will be disqualified.

'What has to be seen is the total span of time for which a person has been ordered to remain in prison, consequent upon the conviction and sentence pronounced at a trial,' the bench said.

The judgment was delivered on a petition by Ramesh Dalal, a failed Congress candidate from Haryana, who challenged the election of Nafe Singh, an Indian National Lok Dal MLA. Singh now stands disqualified and cannot file nominations for the Haryana Assembly.

So far, under Section 8 (4) of the Representation of the People Act, sitting MLAs and MPs convicted and sentenced to two years in jail during their terms could run again if their appeals were pending in a higher court. Many used this clause to convince returning officers that their convictions had been stayed, so they were eligible to contest the election.

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