The Supreme Court on Friday held that the vote cast by a lawmaker on a day when a court of law convicts them in a criminal case will not be treated as invalid, in a judgement that has far-reaching consequences.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde said that the disqualification will follow through from the point in time when the court order convicting and sentencing the legislator was passed and not the entire day.
The question came before the court in an election petition filed by rival members of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and Indian National Congress (INC) who stood for Rajya Sabha elections from Jharkhand in March 2018.
On March 23, 2018, the voting for selecting the candidates to the Rajya Sabha began at 9.15 am. One of the members of the 80-member Jharkhand assembly, Amit Kumar Mahto, belonging to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) cast his vote in favour of Congress candidate Dhiraj Prasad Sahu, who was declared elected. The candidate who lost the election was BJP’s Pradeep Kumar Sonthalia. Later that day, at about 2.30pm, Mahto was convicted by a Ranchi sessions court and sentenced to jail. His conviction disqualified him to continue as a member of the legislative assembly under section 8(3) of Representation of Peoples Act. The losing candidate Sonthalia approached the Jharkhand high court to set aside the election of Sahu on the ground that Mahto’s vote should be treated as invalid. The court dismissed the petition on January 17 this year against which he approached the apex court.
“Conviction is the cause and disqualification is the consequence. A consequence can never precede the cause,” the bench, also comprising justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, concluded, and held the vote cast by Mahto as valid.