Experts see no ‘profit’ in ISI

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By SAMANWAYA RAUTRAY
  • Published 7.07.12
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New Delhi, July 6: Legal experts see little merit in the BJP’s claim that Pranab Mukherjee can be disqualified from the President’s post on the ground of holding an office of profit.

The Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Calcutta, has already clarified that Mukherjee had resigned as its honorary chairman on June 20 before filing his nomination papers, and that the misunderstanding arose because the institute hadn’t updated its website promptly enough.

But the controversy is still simmering with the BJP warning it might take the matter to the Supreme Court.

Legal experts this newspaper spoke to, however, said the charge would not stick even if Mukherjee were deemed — for argument’s sake — not to have quit the post before filing his papers.

The ISI post already figures on the list of those exempted from the category of office of profit for MPs. Constitutional expert P.P. Rao said that in the absence of a separate list of exemptions for presidential candidates, the list for MPs would apply to Mukherjee.

In any case, Rao argued, Mukherjee is still an MP. Under Article 59(1) of the Constitution, if an MP or MLA is elected President he or she will be deemed to have vacated his seat on the date he or she assumes the office.

Senior lawyer Raju Ramachandran too dismissed the charge of Mukherjee holding an office of profit as without merit. Senior lawyer Dushyant Dave described the Opposition contention as “farcical”.

Constitutional expert Rajeev Dhavan too argued that although Parliament has only “clarified” which is an office of profit and which is not for MPs, the list would apply “generically” — that is, also to presidential candidates.

Official sources have anyway clarified that Mukherjee was precluded even from claiming travel expenses for meetings relating to his ISI post and therefore did not make any pecuniary gains from it.

Article 58(2) of the Constitution says a person is not eligible for election as President if he holds any office of profit under the central government, a state government or any local or other authority controlled by any of these governments.

The Supreme Court has clarified that the concept of office of profit has been laid down to ensure that MPs can function without fear or favour and have no conflict of interest in discharging their duties.

Parliament has clarified through a law which offices MPs can hold without questions of a conflict of interest being raised. It placed these offices, including the ISI post, on a list of exemptions that has been updated every now and then.

It was last updated in 2006 following a controversy over Sonia Gandhi holding the post of National Advisory Council chairperson.