India moves to protect tainted lawmakers

In a move that seeks to negate a Supreme Court ruling, Indian cabinet on Tuesday approved an order to protect convicted lawmakers from facing immediate disqualification from office.

The Representation of the People (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance, 2013, allows convicted lawmakers to continue office if their appeal is admitted by a higher court within 90 days and the conviction stayed. However, they will not be entitled to vote during House proceedings or draw salaries and allowances until the case is finally decided.

The executive order, passed at a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, can become a law only if approved by parliament within six months.

In July this year, the Supreme Court had struck down a provision in electoral law that protects a convicted lawmaker from being kept out of parliament if he or she has appealed against his or her conviction.

The government had earlier failed to get a bill to this effect passed in the monsoon session of parliament due to pressure from main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. The bill was then referred to the department-related standing committee.

On July 10, the Indian Supreme Court had ruled that an MP or a member of state assembly would be immediately disqualified if convicted by a court of a criminal offence with a jail sentence of two years or more.

The government move came against the backdrop of a Congress member of parliament, Rashid Masood, facing the prospect of disqualification as he was recently convicted in a case of corruption and other offences.

The BJP termed the ordinance "unconstitutional" and asked President Pranab Mukherjee not to sign it.