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Kalam sends back Office of Profit Bill

Our Political Bureau  |  New Delhi 

Days after Parliament rushed through the Office of Profit Bill, President APJ Abdul Kalam has returned it to the government without signing it.
Although no official word was available on the reasons for the return of the Bill (which can be returned by the President just once in its life), Kalam may have been influenced by the circumstances of its passage and the widespread criticism of the elements of the Bill that constitutional experts have termed "illegal" and violative of the Constitution.
The Bill is known as the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill 2006. The BJP had strongly criticised the Bill and had walked out of the Lok Sabha during its passage. All the UPA allies including the Left and the Samajwadi Party had supported it.
In a newspaper article a week ago, former MP and eminent jurist Fali Nariman had criticised sharply the provisions of the legislation that aims to prevent the disqualification of parliamentarians holding offices of profit. Nariman's argument was that it violated the law of the land, but had been passed virtually unanimously on May 16 and 17 to suit the convenience of lawmakers. Specifically, Nariman said, it violated Article 102 (1) of the Constitution.
Article 102(1) (a) of the Constitution provides that a person shall be disqualified for being a member of either House of Parliament if he holds any office of profit under the Government of India or the government of any State other than an office declared by Parliament by law not to disqualify its holder. Nariman said that the first part of the Article was founded on the need for establishing and maintaining neutrality and impartiality in public service while the latter part of the Article required Parliament to make an "objective assessment" of what construed an office of profit.
Nariman suggested that the Bill would enable members who already hold such offices of profit to continue to do so with impunity as it is to be implemented retrospectively. Nariman called it a "legislative sleight of hand" to justify rather than correct a Constitutional transgression.
The Bill provides in essence that the members who are currently holding offices of profit under the Central Government or any state government (individuals holding known and listed "offices") shall not be disqualified from being members of Parliament since Parliament has retrospectively declared by law that the office of profit they so hold would not disqualify the holder, he stated.
Nariman had urged President A P J Abdul Kalam not to sign the Bill and the court to "strike it down as wholly arbitrary and impermissible."
The Bill that has a bearing on the fortunes, among others, of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, was triggered by a court petition relating to actress Jaya Bachchan's election to the Rajya Sabha while being Chairman of the UP Films Development Federation. Her election was challenged and was referred to the Election Commission that ruled that she was in fact holding an office of profit.
The president's action will cause intense embarrassment and damage to the ruling coalition, as it appears the Bill was not drafted skilfully enough to meet the objections of jurists like Nariman. The action could also have wide-ranging political implications and the BJP is bound to use it to the hilt.

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First Published: Wed, May 31 2006. 00:00 IST