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EC’s Order on Reducing Sikkim CM’s Disqualification Period

EC’s Order on Reducing Sikkim CM’s Disqualification Period

Tag:GS -2 || Polity || Political Dynamics || Elections

Why in news?

  • The Election Commission reduced Sikkim Chief Minister  Prem Singh
     Tamang’s disqualification period to one-year – and-a-month.

 Charges on the CM Tamang

  • Convicted under POCA
    • Tamang has been charged under the Corruption Prevention Act.
    • In 1996-97, Rs.9.50 lakh was misappropriated for the procurement of milk cows for sale.
    • The High Court and the Supreme Court upheld his one-year jail term.
    • In August 2018, he went to prison and was released.
  • Appointed as CM in 2019
    • The Sikkim Governor appointed him (controversially) as chief minister earlier in
    • Tamang did not contest, but the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM), who won the election, chose him the leader of the legislature party.
  • SC Ruling of 2001
    • This was in deep disregard of the Supreme Court’s 2001 ruling in the case of late Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa.
    • [SC nullified her appointment as CM in 2001 because of her conviction in TANSI (Tamil Nadu Small Industries Corporation) case in 2000].
  • Tamang’s appointment was challenged in the Supreme Court.

Tamang’s response

  • To revoke his disqualification, Tamang approached the Election Commission.
  • Any prosecution under the anti-corruption law will result in a six-year disqualification under an amendment in 2003.
  • Tamang argued that the law that existed at the time of the conviction only implied disqualification from contesting elections if the penalty was for a term of two years or more.
  • So, the amendment in 2003 should not be applied to him.

EC’s decision?

  • The EC has the power to remove or reduce the disqualification attached to a conviction under Section 11 of the People’s Representation Act, 1951. 
  • Mr Tamang is eligible to contest a byelection with the current EC order and to retain his post.

Why is this the wrong precedent?

  • ECs power under RPA used only rarely
    • EC powers under the People’s Act were used only occasionally and only in cases involving a bribery conviction.
  • Disqualification- A civil disability
    • Disqualification from contest is a civil disability created by electoral law to prevent the entry into elected offices of those convicted by criminal courts.
    • It’s not a second criminal punishment.
    • Tamang cannot, however, claim that disqualification for a one-year period amounts to a penalty not common at the time of the offense.
  • Decriminalization of Politics
    • The order is morally wrong and a dangerous precedent that could potentially reverse the trend to decriminalize politics.
    • In fact, there is already a perception that the decisions of the EC are political.
    • ECs order for Mr. Tamang now comes only one day after the ruling BJP formed an alliance with the SKM for by-polls in October 2019.
  • ECs Credibility
    • The EC decision also runs counter to a number of recent legislative and judicial steps to strengthen the legal framework against corruption.
    • This is expected to further undermine the credibility of the electoral commission.

Way forward

  • Corruption has been described by the apex court as a serious problem and one that affects the economy.
  • Legislators are working with public funds and there is a good reason to keep anyone accused of abuse.
  • Coverage from automatic disqualification given to sitting lawmakers was withdrawn in 2013.
  • All of these mean that disqualification should be extended more narrowly to those accused of bribery.

 Conclusion

  • The existing position cannot sustain itself for long as the governments from time to time will try to influence the constitutional office of the Election Commission.
  • It is time that instead of mere rhetoric over the independence of the EC some substantial change is brought forward for protection of the constitutional body.
  • Additionally, the Commission has to reinvent its approach so, that the bedrock of democracy doesn’t shake at its foundations.

 Mains model question

  • Election commission of India has been known for its rich legacy of being Independent and Inclusive, but it has been seen in many instances that it is biased towards the parties not being in power at center. Do you feel that EC lost its legacy and credibility over time? Critically Analyse

 References