Over and /or accumulation of wealth is not a crime, but it is so when it is accumulated through illegal means.
Terming possession of disproportionate assets by MPs and MLAs “a culpable offense”, the Supreme Court on Friday said such lawmakers must be disqualified from the legislative bodies as the accumulation of wealth in the hands of elected representatives beyond known sources of income “paves way for the rule of mafia substituting the rule of law”.
A bench of Justices J Chelameswar and S Abdul Nazeer said that “such people are enemies to all good governments” and they should be disqualified from membership of legislative bodies. The Supreme Court has placed the responsibility on the Center’s shoulder, to modify the rule-the lawmaker should be disqualified on the ground of amassing wealth beyond the known sources of income.
“If assets of legislators or his/her associates (spouse and dependent) increase without bearing any relationship to their known sources of income, the only logical inference that can be drawn are that there is some abuse of the legislator’s constitutional office. Something which should be fundamentally unacceptable in any civilized society and antithetical to a constitutional government. It is a phenomenon inconsistent with the principle of the Rule of Law and a universally accepted Code of Conduct expected of the holder of a public office in a constitutional democracy,” Justice Chelameswar, who wrote the judgment for the bench, said.
The Center has also been asked to keep tabs on the lawmakers’ income and their growth- a permanent mechanism so that appropriate action could be taken against them for possessing disproportionate assets. It said that undue accumulation of wealth in the hands of any individual would not be conducive to the general welfare of the society and the issue becomes more crucial if the lawmakers themselves indulged in amassing assets by misusing office. Their assets and sources of income are required to be continuously monitored to maintain the purity of the electoral process and integrity of the democratic structure of this country.
The bench noted that abnormal growth of assets of a lawmaker and his family members need not always be a consequence of such illegal activity for prosecution under criminal law but it could be the result of activities which are improper and are inconsistent with their basic constitutional obligations flowing from the nature of his office. The court said that such activities should also be strongly deprecated.
The court, however, refused to direct probe against current lawmakers who allegedly have disproportionate assets, stating that it could lead to “political witch-hunting”.
The court passed the order on a PIL filed by NGO Lok Prahri alleging that there had been an exponential increase in the assets of 26 Lok Sabha MPs, 11 Rajya Sabha MPs, and 257 MLAs, as was reflected in their election affidavits.
The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) had earlier told the Supreme Court that seven Lok Sabha Parliamentarians and 98 state lawmakers are being investigated for “substantial increases” in their assets. It added that the income tax department had conducted preliminary investigations into their assets and found that, on the face of it, there had been “huge” increases in the Lok Sabha MPs’ assets and “substantial” increases in MLAs’ assets. It also told the top court that a preliminary assessment is underway of the assets of another nine Lok Sabha MPs, 11 Rajya Sabha MPs, and 42 MLAs.