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Friday, April 19, 2024, 6:26 pm

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To combat corruption, the legislative need to work in tandem with the courts.

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Following the conviction and disqualification of former Higher Education Minister K. Ponmudy in a disproportionate assets case in December of last year, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly Sectariat has finally declared the Tirukkoyilur Assembly constituency empty.
The delay is a sharp contrast to the manner in which Vilavancode was proclaimed vacant in February; in that instance, the relevant lawmaker resigned following a change in her party affiliation. Although the Supreme Court did not stay the Madras High Court’s order of conviction—which had only spared Mr. Ponmudy and his wife from surrendering despite the High Court’s sentence of three years simple imprisonment—it is puzzling why there was such a long delay for Tirukkoyilur.  In a letter to Assembly Speaker M. Appavu, the AIADMK General Secretary Edappadi K. Palaniswami pleaded with him to declare the seat vacant impartially. Mr. Ponmudy’s disqualification was based on Section 8(1) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, rather than Section 8(3), which was used to disqualify Parliamentary Rahul Gandhi following his conviction (which the Supreme Court has since suspended) and two-year term in a criminal defamation case. A conviction and the simple imposition of a fine under legislation like the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act and the Prevention of Corruption Act, according to Section 8(1), would be sufficient grounds for a lawmaker to be removed from office. The reason behind the delay in declaring the vacancancy becomes further puzzling when legal scholars point out that Section 8(1) used the term “shall be disqualied.” This implies that the notification of disqualification must inevitably occur on the day that a lawmaker is found guilty. In this instance, it was due on December 19, 2023, when Mr. Ponmudy was found guilty by the High Court.

When the judiciary displays renewed interest in pursuing anti-corruption cases, especially those concerning lawmakers, it would do well for the legislature to act in tandem. Otherwise, there would be no purpose in having a system of special courts for cases involving MP/MLAs or an arrangement in the High Court to look after such cases, particularly after conviction is awarded. The legislature’s backing of the court in eliminating corruption from public life would instill confidence at a time when India’s liberal democracy is experiencing significant challenges. However, it is important to remember that neither the legislature nor the courts have abandoned establishment critics. Ultimately, democracy is about accepting and honouring disagreement. Everyone has a responsibility to follow the rules of the game fairly in order to prevent the perception that judicial overreach, executive authoritarianism, or the “tyranny of the majority” in legislation is becoming the norm.

Abhishek Verma

 

 

 


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