Barred by law from contesting elections for six years after completing his one-year prison term in a graft case in 2018, Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang’s disqualification was sharply reduced to just a year and a month by the Election Commission of India (ECI) on Sunday.
While he did not contest the Sikkim Assembly elections held earlier this year, the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) leader and BJP ally were appointed as Chief Minister. Following the ECI order, he will now be eligible to contest polls.
In their order, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and Election Commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra reduced Mr. Tamang’s period of disqualification citing Section 11 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which allows the ECI to reduce or remove disqualification “for reasons to be recorded”.
The ECI’s order said the “alleged offense” for which the SKM leader had been convicted in 2016 went back to 1996-1997 when the minimum punishment of two years would lead to disqualification under the RP Act.
The order noted that Mr. Tamang had been sentenced to one-year imprisonment on December 26, 2016, and that the section of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, under which he was convicted, had been omitted in an amendment in 2018. He completed the one-year sentence on August 10, 2018.
The case pertained to his tenure as State Animal Husbandry Minister when he was accused and convicted of misappropriating funds in the procurement of cows.
“…The commission needs to tread its path carefully so that a person attracting minimum punishment under a particular Act should not face the same disqualification as is applied to those who are convicted for the longer or maximum period under the statute,” the ECI order said.
The ECI also said it needed to exercise the power “taking all material facts and circumstances into consideration”.
Citing “legislative intent” of Section 11 of the RP Act, the ECI said: “The legislature has, in its wisdom, deemed it necessary to vest this Commission with this power with the understanding that socio-economic-political factors may, in certain peculiar circumstances, warrant that the general disqualification prescribed by statutory rule should be removed/reduced by exercising this extraordinary power.”
The order went on to say that Mr. Tamang had not contested the elections or moved the ECI.
Responding to the ECI order, Jagdeep S. Chhokar, a founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms, said the order was “not conducive to reducing the criminalisation of politics”. He added that the issue of Mr. Tamang not contesting elections and the ECI citing socio-economic-political factors were “not germane to the issue”.
“Morally, it is wrong of parties to give the ticket to those convicted of crimes or to appoint someone convicted…Today, we have 43% of the people sitting in the Lok Sabha with pending criminal cases. We are condoning that,” Mr. Chhokar said.
Updated by: News Sources 2019-09-30 3:45 PM