- Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.
Section 11 of the Representation of the People Act
What to study?
For Prelims: Powers and functions of EC under RPA.
For Mains: Criticisms wrt to Section 11, can this decision be justified and what’s the way out?
Context: Delhi High Court has sought a response from the Centre and the Election Commission (EC) on a petition challenging the EC’s decision to reduce the disqualification period of Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang from six years to 13 months.
This was done in accordance with the Section 11 of Representation of the People Act.
Mr. Tamang was convicted of the charge of misappropriation of public funds. His disqualification period of 6 years, which began on August 10, 2018, was to end on August 10, 2024.
Rationale behind the relief:
It is based on Mr. Tamang’s main argument. According to him, the law prevailing at the time of his offence entailed disqualification only if the sentence was for a term of two years or more; and that the amendment in 2003, under which any conviction under the anti-corruption law would attract the six-year disqualification norm, should not be applied to him.
Section 11 of the RP Act:
The Election Commission may, for reasons to be recorded, remove any disqualification under this Chapter 1 (except under section 8A) or reduce the period of any such disqualification.
What’s the criticism now?
While this may seem to be an innocuous condonation, the fact that condonation was granted just before the fresh state elections were to be held, demonstrates arbitrariness. The only inference from the period condoned, that is, four years 11 months, seems to be for the specific purposes of allowing the candidate to contest the state elections.
Therefore, it is also argued that Section 11 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, was unconstitutional since it provided uncanalised, uncontrolled, and arbitrary power to the Election Commission to remove or reduce the disqualification period.
This is morally wrong and a dangerous precedent that may end up reversing the trend towards decriminalising politics.
- Under Section 11 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the EC indeed has the power to remove or reduce the disqualification attached to a conviction. However, this has been used rarely, and seldom in a case involving a conviction for corruption.
- Its because Disqualification from contest is a civil disability created by electoral law to keep those convicted by criminal courts from entering elected offices. It is not a second punishment in a criminal sense.
- The EC decision also goes against the grain of a series of legislative and judicial measures to strengthen the legal framework against corruption in recent years.
Need of the hour:
The apex court has already described corruption as a serious malady and one impinging on the economy. In 2013, the protection given to sitting legislators from immediate disqualification was removed.
Now, disqualification should be more strictly applied to those convicted for corruption. Legislators handle public funds, and there is good reason to keep out those guilty of misusing them.
Sources: the Hindu.