The Apex Court took into consideration the irrefutable fact that this critical issue had been hanging fire for the last five years. It must be addressed most promptly.
It is most heartening, most soothing and most refreshing to learn that the Supreme Court on November 24, 2021 asked for Centre’s view on imposing life bans from contesting elections on convicted lawmakers. It is worth noting that the Apex Court took into consideration the irrefutable fact that this critical issue had been hanging fire for the last five years. It must be addressed most promptly and not most laggardly!
To put things in perspective, while dealing with a 2016 petition filed by eminent Supreme Court lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay who is also a former BJP spokesperson, a three Judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana asked the Centre to make clear its stand on this. Currently, we see that the convicted politicians are banned for just 6 years which tantamounts to just nothing! It cannot be lightly dismissed that in the past even the Election Commission of India had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court supporting a PIL for setting up special courts to decide criminal cases related to people’s representatives, public servants and members of judiciary within a year and to debar the convicted persons from legislature, executive and judiciary for life.
It is worth mentioning here which cannot be just glossed over that none other than the three Judge Bench of Apex Court headed by CJI NV Ramana himself minced absolutely no words in stating unequivocally that, “Is the government prepared to have life ban on contesting elections for convicted politicians? You have to take a view. Unless you take some view, we cannot ask the Election Commission to ban such people from contesting elections.” Why should there be any dilly-dallying on such a critical and key issue? It must be decided at the earliest so that we see good politicians in Parliament and so also elsewhere and not convicted lawmakers who have no place for moral values which is why we have seen so much of falling standards which is best visible in Parliament as we had seen just a short time back!
Needless to say, the petitioner, advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay urged the need for a level playing field. He said that, “If a convicted person cannot be a government clerk, the same rule should apply to a politician. A person who cannot be a government clerk, can be a Minister.” We know that in UP alone there were more than 1300 criminal cases against legislators!
Similarly for getting a government job one has to be a graduate or at least 12th or 10th but for becoming an MP or MLA we see that there is no such minimum qualification! Similarly we see how cases are easily withdrawn in States by the party in power against their own MPs and MLAs! This is most terrible! This must end forthwith if we really want our democratic standards to rise high in our country!
As it turned out, the Additional Solicitor General (ASG) SV Raju appearing for the Centre replied that he would require to take instructions in this regard. The Court also dealt with a petition filed by Samajwadi Party (SP) leader and MLA Mohammad Azam Khan, who complained that due to court’s orders in these proceedings, cases to be tried by a Magistrate were shifted to a sessions court designated as a special court to try cases against MPs and MLAs thus depriving him of an essential layer of appeal. This is certainly a valid point!
To this, the Bench of Apex Court headed by CJI NV Ramana and also comprising Justice Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and Justice Surya Kant also noted that the Allahabad High Court “misconstrued” its past orders requiring special courts for MPs and MLAs to be designated at both the magisterial and sessions court levels. The Bench said aptly that, “Our directions do not mandate the High Courts to transfer cases which are triable by Magistrates to Sessions Courts.”
It may be vividly recalled that when the discussion on this matter was concluded, the pending hot button issue of life ban on convicted politicians was brought up; by Ashwini Upadhyay. He told the court that his petition that was filed five years ago, raised the issue of criminalization of politics, demanding fast tracking criminal trials against sitting and former Members of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies. Though this was sufficiently addressed through various orders passed by the court directing High Courts to set up special courts for speedy trials, the petition also sought a life ban from contesting polls on convicted lawmakers!
Be it noted, in December 2020, the Ministry of Law and Justice had responded on the key issue by filing an affidavit opposing the life ban. Why oppose life ban? Why should they not be banned for life?
More to the point: Why when in other professions like army, police, bureaucracy, judge and others just one case filed is sufficient to bar candidate for life should then politicians be given such a long rope that even after being convicted they should not be banned for life? Of course, we cannot just gloss over that a court convicts only after most carefully considering all the facts and evidence before it and so no one can say that just because someone filed a false case with political intentions are we barred! Although the matter has since been heard on many occasions, the aspect of life ban and the affidavit in question has not been taken up by the Court. The Court has not indicated when the matter will be taken up next.
It is not for nothing that none other than the Allahabad High Court which is the biggest court in whole of Asia and also one of the oldest High Courts observed most recently in a learned, laudable, landmark and latest judgment titled Hasratullah Shervani and 8 others vs State of UP in Criminal Appeal No. 3668 of 2021 which was delivered as recently on November 12, 2021 that, “From perusal of the injury report, it prima facie supports the contents of first information report, therefore, in above circumstances and that the injured has turned hostile is of no consequence. In this case it appears that on influence of accused-appellant Hasratulla Shervani, the witnesses have turned hostile. It was his duty to raise the issue of misuse of law in Assembly and get it remedied but instead of it he himself misused the law and took law in his hand and pressurized the police personnel to adopt third degree and get him lodged in police lock up, this act of the accused amounts to misuse of police machinery, therefore, his act deserves no sympathy instead of condemnation. Now a days, the legislatures and political persons are thinking themselves as above the law. This menace cannot be lightly taken and should be dealt with iron hand. So far as the bail related to the accused-appellant Hasratulla Shervani is concerned, his bail application is rejected.” Hon’ble Mr Justice Mohd Aslam who delivered this most learned, laudable, landmark and latest judgment has been unequivocal in advocating that politicians and legislatures which includes MPs and MLAs consider themselves to be above the law and therefore the menace which they commit must be taken with utmost seriousness and they must be punished most severely! Absolutely right!
Most lamentably, what we see in Parliament and different State Assembly is so shameful! MPs and MLAs misbehave inside House, shout, scream, tear papers and what not and some even start indulging in ugly physical fights as we had witnessed in Parliament in Rajya Sabha which is the House of Elders on August 11, 2021 due to which we saw 12 Rajya Sabha MPs being suspended for their unruly behaviour during the last session of Parliament under Rule 256 which says that they can be suspended for the duration of the session in which the motion is moved. As per the Rule 256 of the Rajya Sabha’s Rules of Procedure the Chairman is entitled to take action against acts of misconduct, disregarding the authority of the chair, abusing the rules of the council by persistently and willfully obstructing the business thereof. Six of the MPs are from Congress, two each from TMC and Shiv Sena, and one each of CPI and CPM. The Congress MPs are Phulo Devi Netam, Chhaya Verma, Ripun Bora, Rajamani Patel, Syed Nasir Hussain and Akhilesh Prasad Singh. Priyanka Chaturvedi and Anil Desai from Shiv Sena, Dola Sen and Shanta Chhetri of TMC, Elamaram Kareem from CPM and Binoy Viswam from CPI were the others.
It may be recalled that in September 2020, eight Rajya Sabha members were suspended from Lok Sabha during the budget session of Parliament. Also, in January 2019 we saw how Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan had suspended 45 Members of the TDP and AIADMK for disrupting proceedings for days. We all know huge amount of money is wasted when MPs and MLAs disrupt House and don’t allow it to function! Why should such MPs and MLAs not be fined and not punished most strictly for causing a huge loss to the exchequer?
What really touched the heart of most of us was the unprecedented manner in which none other than the Chairman of the House who is also the Vice President – M Venkaiah Naidu was in tears. This was really most shocking! This cannot be forgotten too soon!
One has never in last few decades ever seen a Vice President crying in such a manner! He broke down lamenting that some Members of Parliament (MPs) had committed sacrilege in the “temple of democracy”. Naidu said quite categorically that, “It is sacrilege of the House. I have said (on the conduct of the 12 suspended MPs during the last session in August). There is no remorse by members who have really insulted the parliamentary system.”
Be it noted, Naidu while referring to Opposition MPs climbing the table, waving black cloth, throwing files, tearing down papers and pushing security staff and other members of the House could not restrain himself from lamenting that, “I was very sad and I’m deeply anguished… There is no act to convey my anguish as I have spent a sleepless night…I struggled to find our provocation.”
Adding more to it, Naidu pointed out emphatically that, “…Coming to the well of the House, climbing on the table, throwing papers, snatching papers from the Minister and also challenging the Chair…doing everything which is un-parliamentary, undemocratic and they have no remorse. What can we do?” What can be done is that those who misbehave must be totally debarred whole life from ever entering in any House whether in Parliament or in Vidhan Assembly or any other House as an MP or MLA!
While speaking to the Upper House, the Union Cabinet Minister Piyush Goyal too rightly pointed out while recalling the bitter kerfuffle that took place in Rajya Sabha that, “I want to bring your attention to the last day of the monsoon session. That day some MPs attacked women marshals. They stood firm. We shudder to think what could have happened to the chair. It was important to take action to maintain the dignity of the House.” Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice President Venkaiah Naidu very rightly maintained that the decision to suspend 12 Opposition MPs for their “unruly” behaviour was “in order and was to protect democracy”. He further said that, “The decision was of the House and not of the Chair. I am not here to defend the government. I am here to see that members do not offend Parliament and the people…It is wrong to say that it (the suspension) is anti-democratic. Action has been taken to protect democracy.”
With due respect to the Vice President and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha Venkaiah Naidu, this punishment that has been awarded to the erring 12 MPs is just a mere eyewash and nothing else! Why should such MPs not be debarred either for life or for at least 10 years or so if they dare to misbehave? Why should they be allowed to get away easily by suspending them for a very short span of time like a session? This definitely merits course correction right now!
This also begs the moot question: When MPs and MLAs enjoy so much of discretionary powers then why are they not saddled with the responsibility to behave properly and maintain decorum in the House? Why should they not be barred for life or for at least 20 years or 10 years if they dare to misbehave in Parliament? If this is done promptly then I will see how many of them can then dare to again misbehave in Parliament?
We must bear in mind that Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prahlad Joshi just recently remarked that, “The harsh decision was taken because they refused to apologise. If they agree to apologise to the Chairman in the open House, then the government is also open.” With due respect to Prahlad Joshi, one must be candid enough to submit that this would just not be in order. Those who dare to break rules and insult the sanctity of Parliament by their atrocious conduct must be made to pay for it and face the dire consequences! How can a long rope be given to them? It merits no reiteration that giving such erring members a long rope would just not be in order under any circumstances!
Of course, the Speaker of Lok Sabha Om Birla too recently rightly remarked that, “You want a debate. I am ready to allow debate when there is order in the House. But if you come to the Well, how can there be a debate.” Why should membership of MPs not be terminated for life or for at least 5 years if someone rushes to the Well? Why should there not be zero tolerance for such acts of gross indiscipline?
Needless to say: What trend is being set by always allowing them to get away most lightly by either asking them to apologize as we see now which the members are not ready to apologize or suspending them just for one session as we see again if they don’t apologize? This long rope which MPs and MLAs are extended always has resulted in their taking law for granted! This can never be in the long term interests of our democratic country!
What is most unfortunate is that MPs and MLAs are given long rope everywhere! They can contest from jails thus encouraging those who have criminal backgrounds to make hay while sun shines in politics. They are not debarred even if they have more than hundred pending cases against them and that too very serious charges like mass murder as we saw in case of late bandit queen Phoolan Devi and many others whereas for services of even a soldier or a constable or anyone else there is a proper police verification that is conducted and even if someone falsely lodges complaint that itself is considered sufficient to debar that person from getting a government job! This is what one finds most unfair and which is just not done!
In sum, there should be zero tolerance for misconduct of any kind by our lawmakers which includes both MPs and MLAs. Only then will they fear law catching up with them and their political career coming to an abrupt end most quickly! There can be just no denying or disputing it!
No doubt, there can also be no denying the irrefutable fact that convicted politicians must be banned for life and not just for 6 years only as we see most unfortunately right now! Similarly if a politician misbehaves with Speaker or anyone presiding over the House or even with anyone else then he/she who misbehaves must be also debarred for life! No leniency of any kind is warranted on this score like leaving them by their just apologizing!
If this is strictly implemented in totality without any exception then there is no reason why anyone will ever dare to misbehave in Parliament and we won’t ever see our Vice President or anyone else crying or narrating how he cried whole night like we saw recently as narrated by none other than the Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu himself which was most unfortunate in the history of independent India and most shocking! Let’s fervently hope that the needful is done most promptly! If this is not done even now then there can certainly be no check on the abysmal fall that we see in the standard of politics and politicians in our country right from top to the bottom!