India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet approved an executive order to negate a ruling by the country’s top court in July that barred some lawmakers convicted of crimes from holding office.
Lawmakers found guilty of offenses that carry punishments of more than two years behind bars won’t lose their seats if they appeal within 90 days and a court defers sentencing, Kapil Sibal, minister for Law and Justice, said in a telephone interview. Lawmakers will not be entitled to vote or receive a salary, he said.
The move comes after the ruling Congress party failed to pass legislation in parliament last month to cancel the impact of the court ruling. The ordinance will lapse if lawmakers fail to support the measure in a vote within six weeks of the opening of its next session, probably in November.
“It is a sad attempt at self-preservation,” said Jagdeep Chhokar, a founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms and a former professor at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. “This is a serious setback in attempts to reduce the growing criminality in our politics.”
Lawmakers separately this month passed a similar bill allowing politicians in jail or police custody to contest the elections, overturning another Supreme Court ruling in July. The lower house approved the legislation after a 15-minute debate.
The number of lawmakers charged with offenses has more than doubled in the last fifteen years. Almost a third of federal and state legislators face charges that include murder, rape and kidnapping, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms, which has campaigned for better governance since 1999.
The Supreme Court ruling would have immediately barred lawmakers from office after a court finds them guilty. The average criminal case lasts about 15 years, according to the Ministry of Law and Justice.
Mukhtar Ansari, a lawmaker in the Uttar Pradesh state assembly, has been elected three times from prison where he is awaiting trial for ordering a rival’s murder by hitmen who pumped 400 bullets into the victim’s car.
Raghuraj Pratap Singh was the food minister in Uttar Pradesh until March even though he had cases pending against him for attempted murder, kidnapping and armed robbery. He resigned after he was accused of involvement in the murder of a local policeman.
In the Jharkhand state assembly, 74 percent of lawmakers face criminal charges, the highest of any state, the Association for Democratic Reforms said.
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