Apex court doubts intention behind office of profit law

March 4th, 2008 - 9:58 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, March 4 (IANS) The Supreme Court Tuesday doubted the government’s intention behind enacting the law on office of profit, that saved 40-odd parliamentarians from being disqualified for holding offices in various government bodies. A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan doubted the government’s intention and asked Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanian if enacting a law to exempt a person from disqualification for holding an office is the same thing as enacting a law exempting all similarly placed persons.

The bench, which also included Justices R.V. Raveendran and J.M. Panchal, posed the query to the government’s law officer during the hearing on two petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the law the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government enacted in 2006.

The bench posed the query after former Solicitor General Harish Salve contended that the law was enacted with the sole purpose to shield 40-odd parliamentarians from incurring disqualification on charges of holding various offices of profit.

During his argument, Salve pointed out to the bench that removing one office held by a particular person from the list of offices of profit and saving him from disqualification is one thing and enacting a law to shield all similarly placed persons from disqualification is quite another.

Elaborating, Salve cited the example of the office of the chairman of Sriniketan Shantiniketan Development Authority (SSDA) held by Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, which was exempted from the office of profit list by the law.

Salve argued that removal of this particular office alone from the list of office of profit renders the government’s intention “suspect in the eyes of law”.

Had the government’s intention been clear, it would have exempted all similar offices, irrespective of who held them at that particular point of time, from the office of profit list, he added.

Salve cited more examples, involving Left party parliamentarians supporting the government and whose tenures as MP had been at stake as they held other offices of profit as well.

As the bench posed its query to Subramanian, he sought to allay its doubts.

Subramanian said the government in fact intended to bring in a comprehensive legislation to exempt various offices from the ambit of the law all over the country.

And for this, it had even constituted a parliamentary committee to examine the issue in consultation with various state governments, he said.

He said that once the report of the committee is available, the government would “revisit the issue” at appropriate time.

He, however, admitted that as the issue threatened to bring about a political uncertainty, the government had to bring in a law to protect the parliamentarians from being unseated.

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