By Malvika B.
Open any newspaper in India at any time in 2013, and you are almost certain to find in it these words – rape; riot; corruption. Open your newspaper today, and you will probably find – ordinance; MPs; criminals – all in once sentence.
Just last week, the Union Cabinet cleared an ordinance that protects sitting MPs and MLAs who have been convicted of a crime punishable by a two year sentence or more by any court. This directly negates an order by the Supreme Court passed on July 10th, which declared that an MP or MLA convicted of a crime by a court that is punishable by two years or more would stand immediately disqualified.
You may be wondering how the Union Cabinet can pass what seems to be a law. Let me give you a bit of background – while a law is normally passed by both houses of Parliament, and a President is asked for his assent, it is the President who has the power to promulgate an Ordinance under Article 123 of the Constitution. This power is subject to the following conditions (Sequeira and Raj, 2009):
- The President must be satisfied that circumstances make it necessary for him to take immediate action.
- An Ordinance can be promulgated at a time when both houses of Parliament are not in session. However, if one House is in Session, there is no bar in issuing of Ordinances.
In addition to these two conditions, an Ordinance lapses unless it is passed within six weeks after Parliament is back in session, or it lapses if it is replaced by a law.
Now let us look at the details of this particular Ordinance. Before the Supreme Court passed its order last July, a provision in the Representation of People Act allowed convicted MPs or MLAs to remain in the assembly for a period of three months without any salaries or voting rights, in which time they could appeal to a higher court.If the appeal gets approved in this time, they can continue in their post. The Supreme Court struck this down, and the government tried to pass the Representation of People Act (Second Amendment) Bill 2013 in the RajyaSabha, but the Bill was not passed.
It has been suggested that the government’s decision to give its consent to this Ordinance comes after Congress MP Rashid Masood faces disqualification since he has been convicted of corruption and other crimes.
The Opposition of course, immediately criticised this move by the government, with BJP leader SushmaSwaraj saying, “The ordinance is illegal, immoral and unconstitutional. We urged the president not to sign it and return it to the government.” (Firstpost, 2013)
The Congress too seems divided on the issue, with Rahul Gandhi calling the ordinance, “complete nonsense”, and that, “It should be torn up and thrown out.” (Times of India, 2013)
Milind Deora has said that the Ordinance can “can endanger already eroding public faith in democracy.” (Economic Times, 2013)
To go back to all these words we have been reading in the newspapers – rape, riot, corruption, ordinance, MPs, criminals – as a nation, we finally seem to be taking notice of the severe crime rate that government after government has been unable to curtail. Our own political leaders have recently been convicted for instigating communal feelings in an already tense situation in Muzaffarnagar. We have heard our leaders go on a victim-blaming spree after the hundreds of incidences of rape that have been recently brought to light. We regularly read about how much money honest taxpayers lose because certain politicians have pocketed it. And now, the government seems to be trying to legitimize these leaders’ position as our representatives, and as those who decide the fate of our nation. All I ask is for them to think about that rape victim, that riot victim, that poor man who stays hungry on the street because the government funds meant for him have disappeared in the corrupt system, before trying to pass such an absurd ruling.
And as for all of us, we must remember that these leaders are only in power because we voted for them. If they are allowed to remain in power after wronging us, it is our right to demand that they be brought to justice.
List of References
Economic Times (2013),Embarrasment to UPA: MilindDeora says ordinance to protect MPs can erode faith in democracy, Available Online: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/embarrasment-to-upa-milind-deora-says-ordinance-to-protect-mps-can-erode-faith-in-democracy/articleshow/23112661.cms
Firstpost (2013) Pranab summons Cong ministers over ordinance on lawmakershttp://www.firstpost.com/politics/pranab-summons-cong-ministers-over-ordinance-on-convicted-lawmakers-1136785.html
Sequeira and Raj (2009), Total History and Civics for Class 10, New Delhi: 2009
Times of India (2013), Rahul Gandhi: Ordinance on convicted politicians is complete nonsense. Available online: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Rahul-Gandhi-Ordinance-on-convicted-politicians-is-complete-nonsense/articleshow/23155279.cms (Accessed: 27th September, 2013)