- The Election Commission of India (ECI) has cut short, the disqualification term of Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang.
- It has reduced Golay’s disqualification period from six years to one year, making him eligible to contest the bypolls.
- Tamang was convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act for misappropriating ₹9.50 lakh in the purchase of milch cows for distribution in 1996-97.
- His one-year prison term was upheld by the High Court and the Supreme Court. He went to jail and was released on August 10, 2018.
- The disqualification of Mr. Tamang began on August 10, 2018 — the day he completed a year’s jail term in the case.
- It was to end on August 10, 2024.
Section 8 of Representation of People’s Act 1951:
Section 8 deals with Disqualification of representatives on conviction for certain offences. It states that:
- Section 8 (1): A person convicted of an offence punishable under certain acts of Indian Penal Code, Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, Prevention of Corruption Act 1988, Prevention of Terrorism Act 2002, etc. shall be disqualified, where the convicted person is sentenced to
- In case of only fine – for a period of six years from the date of such conviction;
- In case of imprisonment – from the date of such conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years since his release.
- Section 8 (2): A person convicted for the contravention of—(a) any law providing for the prevention of hoarding or profiteering; or (b) any law relating to the adulteration of food or drugs; or (c) any provisions of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
- Section 8 (3): A person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years [other than any offence referred to in sub-section (1) or sub-section (2)] shall be disqualified from the date of such conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years since his release.
- He had not contested the Assembly election in the 2019 but took oath as chief minister on May 27 following his party’s narrow victory over the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF).
- In order to continue in office beyond six months, he must get elected to the Assembly by then.
- But the EC, reduced the period of six years to one year and one month. In other words, his disqualification ended on September 10.
How EC can reduce the period?
Section 11 of Representation of People’s Act 1951:
- Section 11 deals with the removal or reduction of the period of disqualification.
- The Election Commission may, for reasons to be recorded, remove any disqualification or reduce the period of any such disqualification.
- It is an extraordinary power vested with the ECI, with the understanding that socio-economic-political factors may, in certain peculiar circumstances, warrant that the general disqualification prescribed by statutory rule can be removed/reduced.
What was the argument of Mr. Tamang?
- His main argument was that the law prevailing at the time of his offence entailed disqualification only if the sentence was for a term of two years or more; and that the amendment in 2003, under which any conviction under the anti-corruption law would attract the six-year disqualification norm, should not be applied to him.
- The Election Commission (EC)’s order reducing the period of Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang’s disqualification from electoral contest is morally wrong and a dangerous precedent that may end up reversing the trend towards decriminalising politics.
- The EC decision also goes against the grain of a series of legislative and judicial measures to strengthen the legal framework against corruption in recent years
- The apex court has described corruption as a serious malady and one impinging on the economy.
- In 2013, the protection given to sitting legislators from immediate disqualification was removed.
- Further, common sense would suggest that disqualification should be more strictly applied to those convicted for corruption.
- Legislators handle public funds, and there is good reason to keep out those guilty of misusing them. The EC has failed to execute orders and prevent corruption.
- The EC is already battling a perception that its actions are partisan.
- Its order in favour of Mr. Tamang, coming just a day after the BJP struck an alliance with the SKM for bypolls, is bound to further strain its credibility.