The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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At a loss over office of profit
RS row in grey area

New Delhi, March 18: Jaya Bachchan is out of Parliament and, if their political opponents are proved right, a host of MPs, including Sonia Gandhi, could also be shown the door.

All of them, apparently, are guilty of the same offence as Bachchan: they hold “offices of profit” under the government together with their Parliament seats.

So what’s an office of profit' So far, a clear answer has eluded Constitution, court and poll commission alike.

Bachchan got the boot because she was chief of the UP Film Development Council. Sonia is chairperson of the National Advisory Council (NAC) besides heading several state-funded bodies.

Karan Singh is chairman of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations and fellow Congressman T. Subbirami Reddy is chief of the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam.

If this is too confusing, don’t look to the Constitution or the Representation of Peoples Act for help, legal experts say. Neither defines what an “office of profit” is.

It’s the President who decides on an MP’s disqualification after a recommendation from the Election Commission. After this, the parties can move court.

The Supreme Court, however, would not settle the issue once for all. It wants the matter decided in a “realistic way” ' separately in every case, taking into account “its own peculiar facts” and circumstances.

“The question' should be interpreted reasonably having regard to the circumstances of the case and the times with which one is concerned,” the apex court said while deciding the Karbhari Bhimaji Rohamare case in 1975.

In another case, it said the key issue is how much the holder “gains” from the post.

The Congress argues that the NAC chief’s post brings Sonia no salary, perks, or executive or financial powers.

Legal experts said Sonia might look for protection under The Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act if she can prove the NAC post gives her a minister’s status. The act exempts several offices from the ambit of the disqualification rule, including that of a minister.

Five years ago, the Supreme Court had ruled against JMM leader Shibu Soren after he was ousted from the Rajya Sabha because he was chairman of the interim council of the Jharkhand Area Autonomous Council.

The court said a monthly honorarium of Rs 1,750 plus accommodation and daily allowances made the post an “office of profit”.

Samajwadi leader Amar Singh ' himself facing possible disqualification ' says 44 such cases are pending with the President. Mamata Banerjee has pointed the finger at half-a-dozen Left MPs, including Md Salim and Hannan Mollah. The Telugu Desam has petitioned Rashtrapati Bhavan against Sonia, Karan Singh and Reddy.

The poll panel is reportedly considering the case of Amar’s party colleague Md Azam Khan, chief of the UP Jal Nigam.

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