New Delhi: A day after the union cabinet approved an ordinance to save convicted lawmakers from being disqualified, a political storm blew over the issue with the opposition slamming the government move and the Congress defending it.
The Left parties and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) opposed an ordinance that negates a Supreme Court order disqualifying members of parliament and legislatures convicted in a criminal case.
Terming the step "uncalled for", BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said: "The government stands condemned in the eyes of the people of the country for taking this unconstitutional and immoral route."
"If the government had any reservations on that order, it should go back to the Supreme Court and ask it to review it," he said.
Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj of the BJP tweeted: "Union cabinet has approved an ordinance on convicted MPs. We are opposed to this. We request the president not to sign this ordinance."
The government opted for the ordinance route Tuesday after a bill on the same issue could not be passed in the monsoon session of parliament.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist accused the UPA government of "repeatedly using the ordinance route" to pass bills and said this was "undemocratic".
"The matter regarding the disqualification of elected members who are convicted should have been discussed in parliament and appropriate steps taken," it said.
Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury said that at an all-party meeting convened to discuss the issue, it was decided that if somebody has been convicted in a lower court, it is possible that he gets reprieve from the higher court.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) announced it would challenge the ordinance by filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court.AAP president Arvind Kejriwal said: "We will challenge the ordinance in the Supreme Court if it passes."
"The Supreme Court had said that laws should not be different for the common man and for MPs. This ordinance is against that," said Prashant Bhushan, advocate and AAP leader.
The Congress defended the ordinance.
"The Congress doesn`t want to protect any convicted law maker. If he is finally convicted he will be disqualified as per law," Congress spokesperson Raj Babbar told reporters.
"The ordinance has been brought to protect the constitution," he said.
He said that the ordinance merely prevents immediate disqualification of a lawmaker in case of a conviction by a lower court but at the same time takes way his right to vote along with the perks and privileges, including salary.
The ordinance, once approved by President Pranab Mukherjee, will have to be passed by parliament during the winter session, likely November-December.
The Congress also refuted allegations that the ordinance was approved by the union cabinet in a hurry in order to protect party MP Rashid Masood and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad, against whom court verdicts in different cases were expected next month.
"There was no hurry," said Babbar.
The Supreme Court July 10 ruled that an MP or state legislator will stand disqualified immediately if convicted by a court for offences of crimes with punishment of two years or more. The ordinance would reportedly allow convicted lawmakers to continue in their position if their appeal is admitted in higher courts within 90 days.