New Delhi: Government on Friday said it was working on a proposal to prevent the entry of criminals into politics even as a bill to prevent immediate disqualification of lawmakers upon conviction in a criminal case is pending in Parliament.
Law Minister Kapil Sibal said he was trying to build a consensus within Congress for "steps to put appropriate barriers in place" which would prevent criminals from entering politics. The party, he added, was serious about the issue.
"We want to take steps to reduce the prospect of criminals entering politics. "People who are charged with very serious criminal offences should be prevented from entering politics," Sibal said during an interaction at the Indian Women`s Press Corps.
Terming the passage of the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) Bill in Parliament as his "top priority", Sibal said he was willing to give the Chief Justice of India Constitutional status in the proposed body to rule out "speculation" that at a later stage the CJI could be removed as its chairperson.
"Following speculation, I am willing to give CJI constitutional status as the head of the JAC in the Constitutional Amendment Bill once it comes to Lok Sabha," he said. The Bill has been passed by the Rajya Sabha.
Sibal recently introduced in Rajya Sabha an enabling bill the Constitution (120th) Amendment Bill and the JAC Bill, 2013, which defines the establishment of the proposed body to recommend appointment and transfer of SC and High Court judges.
The Constitutional Amendment Bill says there will be a JAC but does not say it will be headed by the CJI. There were objections to that from jurists who wanted the CJI to be mentioned in the bill.
Sibal, however, ruled out stating the entire composition of the JAC in the bill. The composition of the JAC CJI as its head, two senior SC judges, the Law Minister and two eminent persons as members is defined in the main bill. The Secretary (Justice) will be the convener of the panel.
He said political parties, despite their majority in both Houses of Parliament, can never remove the CJI as the head of the proposed JAC.
"The courts would not allow that to happen... This is speculation. You never know, when I go to Lok Sabha with the bill, the Opposition may raise another issue... These are all roadblocks," he said.
Sibal said his second aim was to get the Constitutional amendment bill cleared increasing the retirement age of High Court judges from 62 to 65 years, on a par with the retirement age of judges of Supreme Court.
The bill was taken up for discussion in Lok Sabha on December 28, 2011. However, the discussion remained inconclusive.
"The Opposition says we are willing to support the bill provided judges do not get post-retirement appointments. They won`t let you move forward and give alternatives," he said, referring to his discussions with Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley.
Sibal also defended the amendment to the Representation of the People Act to protect MPs, MLAs and MLCs from immediate disqualification upon conviction in a criminal case with a jail term of two or more years.
He said while the apex court struck down sub section 4 of section 8 of the Act, the amendment was necessary as, by the time a lawmaker gets reprieve from a higher court, he would lose his membership of the House.
However, at the same time, Sibal conceded that some lawmakers were misusing the provision to their benefit.