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It's all about profit

[Between the lines] LEGISLATION: Political parties are utilising parliament like the holy Ganges to purify their dirt and defrauds. They are framing laws to cover up their mistakes and, in the process, decreasing the level of morality in the country.

And they are doing it purposely with the knowledge that their actions are depraving the society. They are not sensitive enough to assess the harm they are doing.

Take the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill, 2006. It condones an MP for occupying the "office of profit."

The legislation, in fact, exploits the constitutional provision (Article 102) which says that a member will not be disqualified if he or she holds an office of profit under the central or State government.

What the constitution-makers had in mind was such appointments that required MPs to have the credentials that were not easily available elsewhere. It was meant to be an exception for the public good, not the booty to be distributed among politicians.

But both the central and the states have misused the constitutional provision to reward their ardent supporters in either house of parliament and the assemblies. True, members draw no salary but they enjoy all the facilities and perks as the ministers do.

It is no secret that the ruling parties make appointments to keep their flock intact. Those who are not included in the council of ministers are "bought" through chairmanship of corporations or such other assignments.

The legislation which parliament has passed exempts some 50 members. They include the Lok Sabha Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee and the leader of ruling United Progressive Alliance, Sonia Gandhi.

Like the rest, they too probably feared disqualification because of the position they occupied in the name of office without profit. It is regrettable that Sonia Gandhi is going to head the National Advisory Council once again.

This was primarily the office that made her resign the Lok Sabha seat. No doubt, parliament has declared the position as office of no profit. But can an illegal act become legal through the sanction of parliament? The judicial scrutiny is yet to take place.

Since the act is applicable retrospectively, the past sins have been washed away. All those who have occupied the "office of profit" retain their membership.

Poor Jaya Bachchan has been a victim because her case went up to the Supreme Court which upheld the disqualification pronounced by the Election Commission.

Vindictive as top Congress leadership is, it had a vicious clause included in the bill saying that even if the law court exempted a member, he or she could not be reinstated. In any case, after the Supreme Court ruling, Jaya Bachchan's membership could not have been revived.

The Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill is like a run-away marriage. It cannot get sanctity because parliament says so. Do members believe that if they put their stamp on anything illegal it becomes legal? Today the list of exempted MPs is of 50.

Tomorrow, it could double or even treble. The states already play havoc with the constitutional provision. After the act, they may go haywire.

It is no secret that the ruling party or the combination in power adjusts all the supporting members against one post or the other if they are not included in the Cabinet.

The assessment whether the "office of profit" is really so should be left to the Central Election Commission or law courts. Parliament should not poke its nose in every matter and by doing so it is only dwarfing its stature.

Take another law which parliament has passed. This is to legalise the unauthorised or illegal structures in Delhi. Chief Minister Shiela Dixit has gone on record as saying that she has saved the houses of MLAs fromdemolition. Did she do so in the case of jhuggis and jhonpris? Must the axe fall every time on the common man?

The nexus between builders, bureaucrats and politicians has converted the capital into a concrete jungle. Even parks and green spots have not been spared. Both the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court stand defeated because they had authorised the demolition of unauthorised structures.

The Supreme Court has accepted a petition against the new act although it has not given its judgment yet. Maybe, it will stick to its original verdict. As for Delhi government, one would like to know why it staged the drama of demolishing illegal buildings when its real purpose was to see them intact?

I do not want to shame the political parties, particularly the Congress, by quoting Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru who strongly believed that "wrong means will not lead to right results."

The moral aspect of governance was central to their thoughts. They said the "contempt for what be called the moral and spiritual side of life not only ignores something that is basic in man but also deprives human behaviour of standards and values."

Both the acts are immoral and wrong in content and purpose. The Congress and the Left have particularly brought down the dignity of parliament.

A better behaviour was expected from them. Their methods were vitiated and so have been their ends. The BJP was seen keeping away from the bill on the office of profit.

The party took pains to explain that its senior member V.K. Malhotra had resigned from the chairmanship of All India Council of Sports before the office of profit scandal came in public.

I do not know if the party is as puritan in the states as it has claimed to be in parliament. However, the BJP was in the forefront when it came to regularising the unauthorised structures in Delhi.

The two acts have raised many questions. One of them is the political parties' design to circumvent the court. What is still worse is the violation of the rule of law. That parliament should try to cover up the lawless laws is all the more disconcerting.

I am sure that the laws, particularly the one relating to the office of profit, will be challenged in the Supreme Court, even at the expense of the usual attack by the political parties of "judicial activism." We should bow before the elected representatives. But by accepting what parliament has done, we may only be encouraging the effort to dilute the authority of law courts.

We have the shameful precedent of the emergency when the courts did not matter and when administrative procedures and conventions were subverted for the benefit of individuals. That was how dissent got smothered followed by a general erosion of democratic values. The nation has to take up the gauntlet thrown down by political parties.

 

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