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Will Parliament expel Pawan Kumar Bansal?

Author: Sandhya Jain
Publication: Niticentral.com
Date: May 12, 2013
URL: http://www.niticentral.com/2013/05/12/will-parliament-expel-pawan-kumar-bansal-76965.html

As he fed a goat to ward off karmic retribution on Friday, May 10, moments before being asked to resign as Union Minister for Railways, Pawan Kumar Bansal may have rued the high moral ground he seized as Chairman, Parliamentary Committee of Privileges, when he ordered expulsion of 11 Members of Parliament in the cash-for-questions sting operation that broke out in December 2005. Bansal was Chairman, Privileges Committee from 2004 – 2006 and was known for his preachy ways.

Now, caught is a genuine corruption scandal in which his nephew Vijay Singla was caught red-handed by the CBI for accepting a bribe of Rs 90 lakh (advance against a total payment of Rs 10 crore) in lieu of providing a plum Railway Board posting, Bansal’s position is untenable. While the 2005 case involved media entrapment for puny amounts of money, Bansal case is fit for reference to the Privileges Committee and peremptory expulsion.

The case of former Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, who had to resign after the CBI admitted in the Supreme Court that the Minister, the Attorney General, and some senior bureaucrats had vetted and changed the draft CBI report on the coal blocks allocation issue, is different as it does not involve direct corruption. But with Bansal set to be questioned by the CBI, and the harsh precedent of 2005, there is no excuse for his continuation as a Member of Parliament.

Bansal’s tenure as cabinet minister for Water Resources (June 14, 2009 – January 18, 2011 and July 2011 – October 28 2012) has also come under a cloud. BJP’s Chandigarh unit chief Sanjay Tandon has alleged that Bansal doled out illegal favours by permitting a firm, Motia Townships Ltd, permission to dig tube wells (May 4, 2012). The firm had allegedly given share application money of Rs 30 lakh to Mirage Infra Pvt Ltd in which Bansal’s nephew Vijay Singla is a director.

Tandon reportedly handed over some records to the CBI. These allegedly show that several firms invested in Mirage Infra but did not show the transactions in their records, though Mirage reflected the money in its accounts. Ridhi Industries, which had a capital of just Rs 1.1 lakh gave a loan and advance of Rs 2.79 crore to Mirage, but did not show the same in its balance sheet. Similarly, Malerkotla Steels loaned Rs 2.60 crore and Garg Pipes loaned Rs 1.2 crore to Mirage.

The December 12, 2005, sting operation by a television news channel caught 11 MPs across party lines accepting bribes in lieu of asking questions in Parliament for a fictitious NGO. They included BJP Lok Sabha MPs MK Anna Patil (Erandol-Maharashtra) YG Mahajan (Jalgoan-Maharashtra), Pradip Gandhi (Rajnandgao-Chattisgarh), Suresh Chandel (Hamirpur-Himachal Pradesh), and Chatra Pal Singh Lodha from Odisha (Rajya Sabha).

Other Members caught on tape included Ram Sevak Singh (Congress, Gwalior); Manoj Kumar (RJD, Palamau); Narendra Kumar Kushwaha (BSP, Mirzapur); Lal Chandra (BSP, Robertsganj) and Raja Ram Pal (BSP, Balhour).

In a remarkably swift action, on December 23, all 11 MPs were expelled at the recommendation of the Privileges Committee. While parties officially took the high moral ground to restore public confidence in elected representatives, many felt the punishment was too harsh given the measly amounts involved, being as little as Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 in some cases. The Congress MP was caught accepting Rs 50,000.

The questions-for-money scandal was riddled with ironies. A three-judge Bench headed by then Chief Justice YK Sabharwal (who himself became controversial for allowing his sons to conduct business from his official residence and for giving a questionable judgment in the Delhi sealing case) referred the issue to a five judge Constitution Bench after BSP MP Raja Ram Pal approached the court to challenge his expulsion.

The Bench felt that the petition required interpretation of Article 105 of the Constitution, to decide if it provided for expulsion of a MP for reasons other than those contemplated in the Constitution or the Representation of the People Act (RPA). The BSP Member contended that Parliament did not have the power to remove a member caught in a sting operation without giving him sufficient opportunity to explain his conduct. He pointed out that the Constitution provided for disqualification of a Member only on the grounds of defection, and that even the RPA did not have any provision to expel a member caught in a sting operation. Later, other MPs also challenged the expulsion.

They contended that the Pawan Bansal committee did not give them a chance to explain, and that the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha had acted in haste and expelled them on the basis of media reports. The BJP and some allies had walked out of Parliament to protest the expulsion as ‘disproportionate’ to the offence.

But the committee headed by Bansal endorsed the view taken by the First Report of the Committee of the British House of Commons on Standards in Public Life under the Chairmanship of Lord Nolan. It said, “A free Press using fair techniques of investigative journalism is an indispensable asset to our democracy”, and noted that “we do not hold the media in any way to blame for exposing genuine wrongdoing. They have a duty to enquire — coupled with a duty to do so responsibly and in that way we can contribute to the preservation of standards in public life”.

During the debate on the issue, some MPs resented the sting operations and demanded an inquiry into the motives behind the media expose. As another sting surfaced regarding MPs seeking cuts for sanctioning funds under the MP Local Area Development Scheme, the Members charged journalists involved with making money from the sting.

In its judgment of January 10, 2007, the 5-judge Constitutional Bench headed by Chief Justice Sabharwal upheld the expulsion of the 11 MPs in a 4-1 judgment. The dissenting judge, Justice RV Ravindran, said Parliament had no right to expel members, but could suspend the MPs, withdraw their privileges, and try them under the Prevention of Corruption Act. They also should have been allowed to continue as MPs till the judgment.

The legal position now rests with the majority judgment. Hence it is incumbent upon Parliament to expel Pawan Kumar Bansal without further ado.
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