New Delhi: In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a petition calling for removal of tainted Cabinet ministers, saying the Prime Minister should take a call on this.
The apex court left it to the wisdom of the PM and CMs not to recommend such names to the President and Governor, observing that nation has reposed faith in them for "good governance".
Holding that the Prime Minister is the repository of constitutional trust, a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice R M Lodha, hoped the PM would not induct such "unwarranted elements" in his ministry in national interest.
"Thus, while interpreting Article 75(1)(appointment of PM and Ministers), definitely a disqualification cannot be added. However, it can always be legitimately expected, regard being had to the role of a Minister in the Council of Ministers and keeping in view the sanctity of oath he takes, the PM, while living up to the trust reposed in him, would consider not choosing a person with criminal antecedents against whom charges have been framed for heinous or serious criminal offences or charges of corruption to become a Minister," it said.
"This is what the Constitution suggests and that is the constitutional expectation from the Prime Minister. Rest has to be left to the wisdom of the Prime Minister. We say nothing more, nothing less," the bench said adding that it is wholly applicable also to the Chief Minister.
In its 123-page judgement, the court said that it cannot pass any direction on disqualification as "it would tantamount to crossing the boundaries of judicial review".
Expressing concern over prevalence of corruption at high places, the bench also comprising justices Dipak Misra, Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and S A Bobde said repose of faith in the PM and CMs by people has expectations of good governance.
"A democratic republic polity hopes and aspires to be governed by a government which is run by the elected representatives who do not have any involvement in serious criminal offences or offences relating to corruption, casteism, societal problems, affecting the sovereignty of the nation," it said.
In the last hearing the government had contended that only Parliament can decide what would constitute as being a criminal past of the ministers.
According to elections affidavits, thirty percent of ministers in the Narendra Modi government have declared criminal cases against themselves and 18 percent have declared "serious criminal cases".
Union Water Resources Minister UMA Bharti has a case related to attempt to murder and a case related to sections on promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion registered against her. She had also declared a case related to illegal payments in connection with an election.
Upendra Kushwaha of the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party and Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party have each declared a case related to bribery.
Earlier, the Prime Minister who had promised a clean Parliament had asked MPs to get the pending criminal cases expedited. Keeping upto his promise, PM Modi also urged the apex court to expedite the cases of political leaders from all parties.
Earlier this year, in order to expedite proceedings against sitting MPs and MLAs in criminal cases, the SC had set a deadline for lower courts to complete trial in cases involving lawmakers within a year of framing of charges.
However, earlier this month, the country's top court said that it cannot consider the parliamentarians a distinct category and it cannot fast-track criminal cases against MPs alone.
On July 10, 2013 the SC had ruled that an MP or MLA would be immediately disqualified if convicted by a court in a criminal offence with a jail sentence of two years or more. The Supreme Court had struck down Section 8 (4) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which protects convicted legislators from disqualification if they appeal before a higher court within three months.
Holding that Parliament had exceeded its powers in providing such an immunity, the cout had ruled that Parliament lacked legislative competence to enact this provision since it was in direct conflict with Articles 101 and 102, which stipulate the principles for those who want to contest elections as well as those who have been elected.
The court had ruled that no relaxation could be given to a sitting MP or an MLA when an ordinary citizen is barred from contesting elections if he stands convicted on the date of polling.