Can’t club punishments to disqualify lawmakers, says Supreme Court

New Delhi: A lawmaker cannot be disqualified on being sentenced to prison for less than two years, the Supreme Court said on Thursday, clarifying that jail terms under different offences cannot be clubbed together to bring a case under statutory debarment.
The Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951, provides that legislators sentenced to a jail term of two years or more are disqualified from Parliament and state assemblies from the date of the conviction till a period of six years after their release.
According to a bench of justices Surya Kant and Dipankar Datta, the language used in the RP Act is clear — a person convicted of “any offence” and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years shall be disqualified.
“So, it first provides for two conditions – conviction in an ‘any offfence’ and a jail term of at least two years. The term used in the provision is ‘offence’ and not ‘offences’. We cannot read it beyond the language of the Act,” the bench told advocate Ravindra Adsure.

Adsure was appearing for petitioner Ajit Vishnu Ranade, a chartered accountant by profession who had questioned the non-disqualification of Maharashtra MLA Omprakash alias Bachchu Baburao Kadu despite being sentenced to one-year imprisonment each on two charges of assault on a public servant and intentional insult in.

Adsure argued that since Kadu was handed out a cumulative jail term of two years, and the Nashik trial court had not specified in its order that the jail terms will not run concurrently, the Achalpur MLA should have been disqualified under the RP Act. The lawyer added that there was no clarity on the point of law, necessitating the apex court to lay down clear guidelines.

But the bench remained unmoved, citing the language of the Act. “We have to look at the Act. It clearly mentions ‘any offence — meaning a singular offence. So, it has to be at least two years for any one offence a person is convicted of and sentenced to,” it said.
The bench further pointed out that the legislative intent of a statute ought to be viewed at the time of interpreting a provision. “How can it be six months each in four different offences and then you add it up? It must be for not less than two years in one offence,” the court told Adsure.
At this point, Adsure said that he has also filed a representation with the Speaker of the Maharashtra legislative assembly, and therefore, wants to withdraw the petition to pursue the other remedy. The court allowed him to withdraw the petition.

In March, Kadu was convicted and sentenced to one-year imprisonment each on the charges of assault and intentional insult in a 2017 case. He was held guilty under sections 353 (assault or use of criminal force on a public servant) and 504 (intentional insult) of the Indian Penal Code.
Kadu, a leader of the Prahar Janshakti Party and a supporter of the Eknath Shinde-led alliance, was booked in 2017 by the Nashik police on allegations that he had abused and attempted to hit the then Nashik municipal commissioner during a protest over the issue of non-utilisation of funds reserved for people with disabilities. His sentence was later suspended by the Bombay high court.