Onkar Singh in New Delhi
A constitution bench of the Supreme Court began hearing on Tuesday six public-interest petitions seeking to oust Jayalalithaa as chief minister of Tamil Nadu on the ground that she was not even qualified to be a member of the state assembly on the day she assumed office.
The five-judge bench comprising Justices S P Bharucha, G B Pattnaik, Y K Sabharwal, Ruma Lal and Brijesh Kumar declined to entertain a petition moved by Jayalalithaa to defer the hearing in view of her petition pending in the Madras high court to overturn her conviction in the TANSI land deal scandal.
The high court has deferred the hearing indefinitely after the Supreme Court stayed proceedings in the case.
Ashok Desai, counsel for petitioner B R Chopra, questioned the validity of Jayalalithaa's appointment as chief minister, pointing out that she had been convicted in the TANSI case and the Madras high court, which was hearing her review petition, had only stayed the sentence, not the conviction.
He questioned the manner in which Governor Fathima Beevi appointed her chief minister despite her disqualification by the Election Commission.
Attorney General Soli Sorabjee, arguing for the Union, said the founding fathers of the Constitution had not visualised a situation wherein a governor would appoint a convicted person as chief minister, and wondered how a person who could not vote or contest elections could hold that post.
Anil Dewan, counsel for petitioner Pratap Singh Chautala, argued that never before had Article 164(4) been used to swear in a chief minister who had been disqualified under election law because of a conviction under the Prevention of Corruption Act. The cases only related to those persons who were qualified to contest elections but had lost from a constituency or not contested at all.
He said the decision to appoint Jayalalithaa was wholly unconstitutional, arbitrary and subversive of the rule of law.
If this became a precedent, he warned, a convicted murderer or dacoit could even become prime minister.
"The constitutional interpretation must be in line with morality, observance of the law and discouraging corrupt and criminal elements from holding office. The appointment of a convicted and corrupt official is wholly against constitutional morality," Dewan argued.
The bench will hear the matter further on Wednesday when Solicitor General of India Harish Salve puts forward his arguments.
Supreme Court rejects Jaya's adjournment plea
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