SC grills govt over shield to convicted MPs, MLAs

Seeking to justify continuation of MPs and MLAs in the House despite their conviction in criminal cases, the Centre was put in a tight spot on Wednesday by the Supreme Court when it questioned Parliament's power to defer the effect of disqualification in conflict with Constitutional provisions.

A Bench led by Justice A K Patnaik sought to know from two Additional Solicitors General, defending the validity of a provision in the Representation of the People Act, if Parliament, by a law, could lay down a principle against a specific Constitutional provision, which mandated for immediate vacation of seats by the lawmakers on being convicted.

The court's query related to constitutional validity of Section 8(4), which protects a lawmaker from disqualification till the time his appeal against conviction is decided. But Articles 101 and 102 lay down for immediate disqualification upon conviction.

Comparing the two, the Bench asked the ASGs: "The moment conviction is pronounced, Articles 101 and 102 come to play and the person concerned is disqualified.... So, where does Parliament get its power from to defer the effect of disqualification? The Constitutional provision talks about immediate effect. Can Parliament defer it in the teeth of the Constitution?"

The court was unequivocal that Parliament's power will be subjected to the Constitution and what is prescribed there could not be undone by a statutory provision like Section 8(4). "You (Parliament) cannot have implied powers against the specific powers of the Constitution," said the Bench, as it heard two PILs against protection to convicted legislators.

It turned down ASG Siddharth Luthra's argument that a five-judge Bench has decided in favour of the validity of the impugned law, saying that verdict did not delve on the issue whether Section 8 (4) lacked the legislative competence.

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