25 Sep 2020 8:29 AM GMT
The Madhya Pradesh High Court on Wednesday (23rd September) ruled that if any MLA, who is convicted and sentenced for offences under IPC for more than 2 years of imprisonment becomes disqualified to further contest the election of MLA under Section 8 of Representation of the People Act and if convicted MLA is interested to contest the forthcoming election of MLA and succeeds to demonstrate...
The Madhya Pradesh High Court on Wednesday (23rd September) ruled that if any MLA, who is convicted and sentenced for offences under IPC for more than 2 years of imprisonment becomes disqualified to further contest the election of MLA under Section 8 of Representation of the People Act and if convicted MLA is interested to contest the forthcoming election of MLA and succeeds to demonstrate before the Appellate court that prima facie conviction is not based on sound evidence and has immense chances of success in the appeal, then the conviction can be suspended to ensure that it does not operate to cause serious prejudice.
The Convicted MLA/Appelant (Shakuntala Khatik) before the court has been convicted of offences under Sections 147, 115/149, 332/149, 504/149, 506 Part-I/149 and 341/149 of IPC, awarded by the Court of 21st Additional Session and Special Judge (MP/MLA), Bhopal, in Special case (PPM) no.29/2018 vide its judgment dated 30.11.2019
The Single Bench of Justice J.P. Gupta was hearing the plea of the appellant, a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Karaira constituency of the State of Madhya Pradesh, but on account of aforesaid conviction and sentence, she became disqualified for the further election of MLA as prescribed under Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
Arguments Put Forth
The convicted MLA argued that she intends to contest upcoming Bye-election of MP Legislative Assembly which is going to be held in a short span of time. In the circumstances, the case of the appellant comes in the purview of exceptional case, therefore, the conviction be suspended.
Vide order dated 19.12.2019 execution of jail sentence of the appellant has already been suspended. This application for suspension of conviction has been preferred on the ground that the appellant's conviction is contrary to law.
It was argued that the prosecution has failed to prove the offences against the appellant beyond reasonable doubts, despite it, the Trial court has erroneously convicted and sentenced the appellant.
Apart from it, it was also argued that the sentence is also on the higher side. The appellant is the first offender. The alleged incident took place in a heat of passion on provocation from the administrative side and the appellant could not have been convicted for any of the offences for more than 2 years.
On behalf of the State, the Government Advocate submitted that the finding of the trial Court with regard to the conviction of the appellant is based on the sound evidence and reasoning.
He argued that sentence should be exemplary (as the Appellant is an elected MLA) and the case of the appellant does not come in the purview of the exceptional case as every convicted accused can claim that if his conviction is not suspended he will be deprived of contesting the election of MP / MLA. In such circumstances, the object of disqualifying of criminals would be defeated. Hence, the application be rejected.
Court's Analysis and Decision
While relying on the Judgments of the Apex Court in the cases of Lok Prahari vs. Election Commission of India and others (2018) 18 SCC 114 and Shyam Narain Pandey vs. State of Uttar Pradesh (2014) 8 SCC 909, the High Court concluded that the power of suspension of conviction is vested to the Appellate court to ensure that the conviction on the untenable or fabulous ground does not operate to cause serious prejudice.
Further, the Court observed that the appellant was M.L.A. and her desire and claim to contest upcoming Bye-elections of MP Legislative Assembly is bona fide and the disqualification under the Representation of the People Act on account of aforesaid conviction and sentence prevents her to exercise her aforesaid right.
The Court further noted,
"In a democratic setup, restriction on the exercise of such right can be considered hardship to aspirants, if the conviction and sentence prima facie arguable to be fabulous and malice, in other words where the appellant has a fair chance to succeed in the appeal against the conviction and sentence." (emphasis supplied)
After looking at the facts of the Case, the Court prima facie formed an opinion that,
"The appellant was prosecuted on the instructions of leader of the Ruling Party without fair investigation as the same was done by the immediate subordinate officer of the complainant.
Accordingly, the Court noted that the prosecution has failed to prove the offences beyond the reasonable doubt. Accordingly, the conviction is not sustainable." (emphasis supplied)
The Court concluded by observing that the case of the appellant comes in purview of exceptional case and "if the conviction is not suspended it would cause serious prejudice and her political career would also ruin".
The Court specifically observed,
"Prima facie it can be said that the appellant has immense chances of success in the appeal and get the order of acquittal or sentence lesser than two years imprisonment. In such circumstances, depriving her of contesting election of MLA would be injustice and it would amount to frustrate the provisions of law which has been made by the Legislature to pass appropriate order to meet a situation exists in the present case." (emphasis supplied)
In view of the aforesaid discussions, the application was allowed. It was ordered that judgment of conviction of the appellant dated 30.11.2019 passed by the Court of 21st Additional Session and CrA.No.10870/2019 Special Judge (MP/MLA), Bhopal in Special case (PPM) no.29/2018, shall remain suspended until further orders.
Case Title: Shakuntala Khatik v. State of M.P.
Case No.: Criminal appeal no.10870/2019
Quorum: Justice J.P. Gupta
Appearance: Advocate Varun Tankha and Advocate Shivendra Pandey (for the appellant); Govt. Advocate Pradeep Gupta (for the respondent / State).
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