Following the disqualification of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi as a Member of Parliament, a plea has been filed in the Supreme Court on Saturday challenging the automatic disqualification of legislators from the Parliament or State Assembly after conviction in a criminal case. The plea challenges the constitutional validity of Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 which lays down the automatic disqualification of a legislator while terming it illegal.
The petition filed by social activist and PhD scholar Aabha Muralidharan sought direction to declare that there does not exist any automatic disqualification under Section 8(3) and in cases of automatic disqualification under Section 8(3), the same be declared as ultra-vires of the Constitution for being arbitrary and illegal.
The plea filed through advocate Deepak Prakash further asked the Supreme Court to issue directions to declare that the mandate of Section 499 of IPC (which criminalises defamation) or any other offence prescribing maximum punishment of two years will not automatically disqualify any sitting member of any legislative body since it violates the freedom of speech and expression of an elected representative.
Section 8(3) is ultra vires of the Constitution since it curtails the free speech of an elected Member of Parliament or Member of the Legislative Assembly and restrains lawmakers from freely discharging their duties cast upon them by the voters of their respective constituency, the petition added.
The petition assumes significance as it was filed when Rahul Gandhi was disqualified from the Lok Sabha after a Surat court in Gujarat verdict held him guilty of criminal defamation and sentenced him to two years in prison.
The petition said that factors such as nature, gravity, role, moral turpitude and the accused’s role should be examined while considering disqualification under Chapter III of the 1951 Act.
It stated that the intent of the legislature while laying down the Act of 1951 was to disqualify the elected members who upon commission of a serious/ heinous offence are convicted by the courts and hence are liable to be disqualified.