New Delhi: Taking a step towards negating a Supreme Court order, Rajya Sabha Tuesday approved a proposal to maintain the right of those in jail to contest polls amidst Law Minister Kapil Sibal's contention that courts are "enthusiastic" to prove politicians as criminals.
Moving amendments to the Representation of the People Act, Sibal said the apex court judgement was "clearly erroneous" and advised the judiciary to be "extremely careful" in giving rulings which have an impact on the polity of the country.
The Representation of the People (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2013, which was passed by the House, seeks to add a proviso to sub-section (2) of section 62 of the RP Act to state that a person cannot cease to be a voter while in detention as his or her right is only temporarily suspended.
One of the amendments states that as the name of the jailed person continues to be on the electoral rolls, he or she also continues to be an elector and can file nomination for an election.
"Provided further that by reason of the prohibition to vote under this sub-section, a person whose name has been entered in the electoral roll shall not cease to be an elector," the proviso reads.
The amendments seek to negate the July 10 order of the Supreme Court which held that those in jail cannot vote as per RP Act and hence cannot qualify for contesting elections to Parliament or state legislatures.
The amendment, once passed by Parliament, shall come into effect from July 10, 2013, the day the Supreme Court gave the judgement.
Speaking on the bill, Sibal said there is a general "negative perception" in the country that all politicians are criminals. "Courts are enthusiastic to prove us so, even if we are not so," he said.
Winding up the debate on the bill, Sibal said, "I dare say, in another environment, we perhaps would not get such a judgement. The environment is that political class is being looked upon with suspicion."
The Law Minister said the verdict of a court to bar persons in jail from contesting elections was "clearly erroneous" as the matters or right to vote and right to be on electoral roll were being dealt by separate sections in the Constitution and till proven guilty, everyone was to be taken as innocent.
"We are fallible, we commit mistakes and the judges can also commit mistakes...The judiciary should be extremely careful while giving judgements which can affect the polity of the country," he said.
Sibal's remark drew mixed response from the parties with Ravi Shankar Prasad (BJP) asking him to show respect towards the judiciary and SP members including Naresh Agrawal fully backing him on it.
"I have greatest respect for the judiciary and that is why we never make adverse comments against any judge or court," Sibal said in response to Prasad's remarks.
After examining the Supreme Court order, government had filed a review petition, but instead of waiting for the outcome, it felt the need to "suitably" address the situation, the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill states.
In its verdict the apex court had ruled that only an "elector" can contest the polls and he/she ceases the right to cast vote due to confinement in prison or being in custody of police.
The court had, however, made it clear that disqualification would not be applicable to persons subjected to preventive detention under any law.