The Times Of India carries today a front page headline "Netas may unite against Section 24 of Lokpal bill".
What does Section 24 of the Lokpal bill say? It provides for the action to be taken by the Lokpal and the Parliament in case the CBI (or any other agency entrusted with the investigation) finds , upon conclusion of an investigation ,that an offence has been committed by the Prime Minister or a Minister or a Member of Parliament under the Prevention of Corruption Act. The Lokpal may file a case in the Special Court, and will also send a copy of the Investigation Report along with its findings to the Parliament which will inform the Lokpal, within 90 days, of the action taken.
Therein lies the rub ! Till the Special Court decides the matter, how can the Parliament take any action, ask the affronted netas. The Representation of the People Act provides for disqualification of our MPs only when they have been convicted of a serious offence.In fact, no action can be taken against an MP even if he has been convicted of a serious offence until his appeal against such an order of conviction has been heard and decided by the Supreme Court. This could take several years, during which time he continues to enjoy the power, privileges and perquisites of being an MP/Minister.And here comes the Lokpal bill, with a requirement that action be taken by the Parliament against an MP/Minister even before he has been convicted of an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The government could point out that the provisions of the Lokpal bill over ride any provisions of any law that are inconsistent with the Bill. However, if the government is truly in earnest about action being taken against MPs and Ministers even before the Special Court has decided the corruption case filed by the Lokpal, then it must also introduce a Bill to amend the Representation of People Act. We have large numbers of MPs with criminal antecedents and criminal cases pending against them. The cases linger in the courts for decades, and even when the court convicts an MP or Minister, several more years pass while he exhausts all the appeal remedies that the law provides him. Is it not proper that the Representation of People Act be amended to require that an MP be disqualified at the stage of framing of charges against him in the criminal court? In August this year, newspapers did carry news items about such a proposal being considered by the government. And then, no more was heard about the proposed amendment ----vested interests at work, no doubt !
It is but obvious that MPs and Ministers will resist any provision of the law that changes the status quo from which they so greatly benefit. We must make certain, by telling our MPs in unambiguous terms that they cannot have their cake and eat it too, that along with a powerful and effective Lokpal legislation, the law is amended to provide for the disqualification of MPs and Ministers once charges have been framed against them in a criminal court vis a vis a serious offence.