Removing the fig leaf of protection under the provision of Representation of People Act (RPA), the court today struck down the provision which protects a convicted lawmakers against disqualification on the ground of pendency of appeal against their conviction in the higher courts.
"The only question is about the vires of section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act (RPA) and we hold that it is ultra vires and that the disqualification takes place from the date of conviction," a bench of justices A K Patnaik and S J Mukhopadhaya said.
The section 8(4) says that a lawmaker cannot be disqualified in the event of his conviction in a criminal case if he or she files an appeal in the higher court. It allows convicted lawmakers a three-month window for appeal.
The court's decision will not have retrospective effect. The apex court said that its decision will not apply to MPs, MLAs or other lawmakers who have been convicted and have filed their appeals in the higher courts before the pronouncement of this verdict.
Out of the 4,835 MPs and MLAs in the country, 1,448 are facing criminal cases. A total of 776 MPs are facing charges while the number of legislators is 4,120.
Of 543 Lok Sabha MPs, 162 have criminal cases pending against them with 75 facing serious criminal charges.
According to study done by the National Election Watch and Association of Democratic Reforms, 31 per cent Members of Parliament (MPs), legislators (MLAs/MLCs) have criminal cases pending against them.
The apex court's verdict came on the petitions filed by Lily Thomas and NGO Lok Prahari through its secretary S N Shukla who had sought striking down of various provisions of RPA on the ground that they violate certain constitutional provisions which, among other things, expressly put a bar on criminals getting registered as voters or becoming MPs or MLAs.
The PILs had said that certain sections of RPA allow convicted lawmakers to continue in office while their appeals are pending and thus those provisions are "discriminatory and encourage criminalisation of politics".