The Indian Supreme Court on Wednesday said charge sheeted persons facing trial for offenses involving moral turpitude should not be inducted as Ministers either at the Center or in the States.
However, it said that both the Prime Minister and chief ministers owe it to constitutional morality not to appoint persons with criminal background as ministers.
The SC said it cannot read an additional disqualification for appointment of ministers other than what is provided in the Constitution.
The court gave the verdict in a 10-year-old petition that sought the removal of charge-sheeted ministers from the Congress-led UPA government at that time.
"Corruption is an enemy of the nation. As a trustee of the Constitution, the PM is expected not to appoint unwarranted persons as ministers, no disqualification can be prescribed," NDTV quoted a Constitution bench of the country's five senior most judges as saying.
The Bench was disposing of a public interest litigation petition filed in 2005 by Manoj Narula seeking removal of the then four chargesheeted Ministers — Lalu Prasad, Mohammed Taslimuddin, M.A.A. Fatmi and Jai Prakash Yadav from the Cabinet.
The Centre took the stand that Article 75 did not say that any person who had criminal proceedings pending against him had to be read as disqualification of being appointed as a minister. It would be incorrect to read into the provisions of Article 75 such a disqualification when none existed.
The constitution bench while expressing concern over criminalisation of politics left it to the wisdom of the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister of a State to take a call on this aspect and not appoint such charge sheeted persons as a Minister.
The Hindu said in a landmark verdict the Supreme Court advised the Prime Minister or Chief Minister of a State not to induct charge sheeted persons facing trial for offences involving moral turpitude as Ministers though there was no limitation or restriction in the Constitution which debars any Member of Parliament or Legislative Assembly being included in the Cabinet.
The Constitution Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha said the Prime Minister as the trustee of the Constitution was expected to act in accordance with constitutional propriety and not appoint unwarranted persons as Ministers.
Justice Dipak Misra's writing in the judgment said “Article 75 of the Constitution does not contain any limitation as to who can or cannot be included in the Council of Ministers" and hence no new disqualification could be added to prevent charge sheeted persons from being appointed as Ministers.
The Bench said criminalisation of politics destroyed people’s faith in democracy and persons, howsoever, high he/she might be or could not be exempted from equal treatment. It said constitutional morality, good governance and constitutional trust expected good sense from the Prime Minister and it should be left to his wisdom not to recommend any person with criminal charges from being appointed as a Minister.
The bench said that many things could not be said in the Constitution, but the Constitution could not however be expected to operate in a vacuum. The Prime Minister should act in the interest of national polity and avoid unwarranted persons facing criminal charges to restore people’s faith in democracy.
The Bench asked “whether a person who has come in conflict with law would be in a position to conscientiously discharge his functions as Minister when his integrity is questioned and whether a person with doubtful integrity can be given the responsibility.” It pointed out that a person against whom charges were framed or was facing trial was not appointed in any civil service. While so whether a person who was facing the same disqualification could be appointed as a Minister by the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister of a State, the Bench said.