Sending a strong message that people against whom criminal and corruption charges have been framed be not inducted as ministers, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said the prime minister and chief ministers should desist from making such appointments and act in "national interest".
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice R M Lodha, however, stopped short of prescribing disqualification for such people from becoming ministers, leaving it to the wisdom of the PM and CMs not to recommend such names to the President and governor.
Observing that it cannot add disqualification in article 75 (1) (appointment of PM and council of ministers), the bench, however, said that the PM and CMs should not consider people with criminal antecedents and against whom charges have been framed in serious offences, including corruption, for appointment as ministers.
It further said that the Constitution reposes immense trust in the PM and CMs and they are expected to act with constitutional responsibility and morality. It said that the PM has been regarded repository of constitutional trust and he should act in national interest.
"We are saying nothing more, nothing less and it is left on the wisdom of the PM to decide," the bench said, adding this is also applicable to CMs. PM and CMs will be well advised not to include such people in their ministry, it said.
The bench passed the order on a public interest litigation seeking its direction restraining the Centre and State governments from appointing people with criminal background as ministers. The bench also comprising justices Dipak Misra, Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and S A Bobde passed unanimous verdict in the matter with two judges giving separate opinions.
In the 123-page verdict, Justice Dipak Mishra said it is also expected that the prime minster should act in the interest of the national polity of the nation-state.
"He (the PM) has to bear in mind that unwarranted elements or persons who are facing charge in certain category of offences may thwart or hinder the canons of constitutional morality or principles of good governance and eventually diminish the constitutional trust.
"We have already held that prohibition cannot be brought in within the province of 'advice' but indubitably, the concepts, especially the constitutional trust, can be allowed to be perceived in the act of such advice," the bench said.
It also said that while interpreting Article 75(1), definitely a disqualification cannot be added.
"However, it can always be legitimately expected, regard being had to the role of a minister in the council of ministers and keeping in view the sanctity of oath he takes, the prime minister, while living up to the trust reposed in him, would consider not choosing a person with criminal antecedents against whom charges have been framed for heinous or serious criminal offences or charges of corruption to become a minister of the council of ministers.
"This is what the Constitution suggests and that is the constitutional expectation from the prime minister. Rest has to be left to the wisdom of the Prime Minister. We say nothing more, nothing less," the bench said.
Justice Kurian Joseph said, "Hence, I am of the firm view, that the PM and the CM of the State, who themselves have taken oath to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India and to discharge their duties faithfully and conscientiously, will be well advised to consider avoiding any person in the council of ministers, against whom charges have been framed by criminal court in respect of offences involving moral turpitude and also offences specifically referred to in Chapter III of The Representation of the People Act, 1951".
This provision deals with disqualification of membership to Parliament and state legislatures.