New Delhi : The Supreme Court Monday upheld the constitutional validity of a law enacted by the Congress-led government in 2006 that sought to protect over 40 MPs from being unseated for holding offices of profit in government bodies.
A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan upheld the validity of the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Act, 2006, dismissing two lawsuits filed by Trinamool Congress MP Dinesh Trivedi and NGO Consumer Education Research Society.
The bench, which included Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice J.M. Panchal, threw out the lawsuits dismissing the petitioners’ contention that the law violated the fundamental right to equality and that the government was not empowered to enact the law with respective effect.
The apex court had earlier reserved its verdict on the lawsuits in March 2008 after hearing elaborate arguments from the two sides, the government and petitioners who challenged the constitutional validity of the 2006 amendment to the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification Act), 1950.
The 2006 amendment had removed around 55 offices in government bodies, corporations and boards, occupied by around 40 MPs and 15 state legislators, from the list of office of profit, thus protecting their holders from being disqualified under the original 1950 law.
The office of profit controversy erupted in early 2006 when then President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam disqualified on March 16, 2006 Rajya Sabha member Jaya Bachchan for holding an office of profit in Uttar Pradesh.
Bachchan’s disqualification led to the realisation that over 40 other MPs might also be liable to be disqualified and unseated from their houses for holding offices of profit under various governments.
They included Congress president Sonia Gandhi, then holding the office of chairperson of the National Advisory Council to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, who held an office in the Sriniketan Shantiniketan Development Authority.
Gandhi quit both her chairpersonship of NAC as well as her Lok Sabha membership, which she regained after contesting a by-election. But other MPs, mostly belonging to Left parties supporting the Congress-led government, clung on to their membership of the House.
This led the government, said the petitioner, to introduce and get passed from the Lok Sabha “in undue and indecent haste” on May 16 the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Act, 2006.
The law was passed by the Rajya Sabha the next day and sent to the President for his assent May 25. The president returned the bill May 30 for reconsideration by parliament, pointing out various anomalies in the bill.
But the government again got it passed within days without any change. In July 2006, it was submitted to the president who approved it Aug 18, 2006. It was notified in the official gazette the same day.