Tuesday, October 4, 2022

One law two versions

Jharkhand has been in a state of political turmoil since the Election Commission (EC) on August 25 sent its opinion to Governor Ramesh Bais on an ‘office of profit’ case that could lead to Soren’s disqualification as an MLA. The EC’s report, sent to the governor in a sealed envelope, is yet to be communicated to the government. However, the ECI order is being interpreted as an opener for the BJP to effect a coup of sorts and wrest power in the state. The matter was raised on February 11 last when BJP leaders including former CM Raghubar Das filed a petition before the governor seeking Soren’s disqualification as MLA on grounds that he allegedly allotted a mining lease to himself last year while he was also heading the mining department. In its notice, the commission had said that Soren’s actions are a prima facie violation of Section 9A of The Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951, which deals with disqualification for government contracts. Soren has since surrendered the mining lease. What the ECI did was very much in line with its responsibility of ensuring that the laws under Representation of People Act was upheld . However the ECI seems to have a different yardstick when it involves the ruling BJP. Again, with regard to the ECI, it had allowed present chief minister of Sikkim Prem Singh Tamang to be sworn-in as chief minister despite being convicted and serving jail terms for corruption. The ECI by exercising its power under Section 11 of the Representation of People Act, on September 29 2019 , issued a highly contentious order that reduced the disqualification period of Tamang from the statutory six years to only one year and one month. Tamang was convicted and served a year in prison, between 2017 and 2018, after he was found guilty of misappropriating government funds in a cow distribution scheme while he was the minister of animal husbandry in the 1990s. He was released on August 10, 2018. This attracted the provisions of the Representation of People Act, debarring him from being an electoral candidate for six years from the date he was released. This means is that when Tamang was sworn-in as chief minister on May 27 ,2019 as leader of the SKM which had won 17 out of the 32 seats, his disqualification was very much in force. In July 2019, Tamang had requested the ECI to waive his disqualification period under Section 11 of the Representation of People Act. Though the ECI’s order has not considered the legality of whether Tamang’s swearing-in on May 27 was sound, the consequence of the September 29,2019 ECI order is that the Sikkim governor’s decision to invite Tamang to form the government and the subsequent administration of oath of office and secrecy is untenable. The EC decision in this case goes against the grain of a series of legislative and judicial measures to strengthen the legal framework against corruption in recent years. In the case of Jharkhand the ECI has only done disservice to itself by trying to uphold its power under the RP Act and thus supplementing charges of being partisan in favour of the ruling party which is contrary to its stand in Sikkim in 2019.