Punjab: On March 24, the Lok Sabha Secretariat issued the notification of former Congress MP Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from Lok Sabha following his conviction in the ‘Modi’ surname defamation case. It is pertinent to note that u/s 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, “a person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for no less than two years shall be disqualified from the date of such conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a period of six years since his release,” provides for automatic disqualification of an MP, MLA or MLC from the date of conviction when an elected representative is convicted for not less than two years.
However, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA Dr Balbir Singh and three other persons were sentenced to 3 years of rigorous imprisonment in a 2011 assault case on May 23, 2022. However, the AAP-led Punjab Government did not disqualify him u/s 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Furthermore, Dr Balbir Singh was sworn in as Punjab’s Cabinet Minister for Health after Fauja Singh Sarari resigned as Cabinet Minister following his controversial audio tape discussing ways to ‘trap’ contractors for extortion surfaced on social media on January 7.
The complainant, Wing Commander Mewa Singh, is Dr Balbir Singh’s brother-in-law. The complainant alleged that Dr Balbir Singh assaulted him and his wife, Paramjit Saini, over a land dispute. The Trial Court observed that Dr Balbir Singh and other accused persons were the aggressor and said, “justification given by the respective parties for their presence at the spot, nature of injuries and medical evidence as well as the time of registration of FIR and the cross- version clearly indicate that it was the accused in the present case viz. Dr. Balbir Singh etc. who were the aggressor.”
The Trial Court held that the allegations against Dr Balbir Singh and other accused were proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, the Trial Court convicted Dr Balbir Singh and other accused u/s 323 r/w section 34, 324, 325 and 506 r/w section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Furthermore, the Trial Court observed that “while taking into consideration the plea of the convict and their age (convict Dr. Balbir Singh aged 66 years, convict Rupinderjit Saini aged 60 years, convict Rahul Saini aged 34 years and convict Parwinder Singh @ Parminder Singh aged 32 years) cannot lose sight of the fact that both the injured and the complainant in the present case were also aged about 68 and 60 years respectively, at the time when they were given merciless beatings by the present convict causing grievous injury to Paramjit Saini.”
“Therefore, in the considered view of this Court, this is not a fit case to grant benefit of probation to the convict,” the Trial Court added while sentencing Dr Balbir Singh and the other three accused to 3 years of rigorous imprisonment.
However, Dr Balbir Singh was not disqualified from Punjab’s Legislative Assembly after his conviction in the 2011 assault case. It is pertinent to note that Dr Balbir Singh is an MLA from the ruling party and forms part of the ruling Punjab Government.
Furthermore, Dr Balbir Singh alleged that he was falsely implicated in the case and said, “I will file an appeal against the judgment.” Dr Balbir Singh and Speaker Kultar Singh Sandhwan later held a meeting with Vidhan Sabha Secretary Surinder Pal to discuss the implications of the conviction on his MLA membership, The Tribune reported.
Dr Balbir Singh appealed to Sessions Court against his conviction. Dr Balbir Singh’s counsel submitted to the Court that “The appellant had contested the recent assembly elections in the year 2022. There is a gap of 11 years in the date of occurrence and in the date of elections. The appellant was elected as a member of State Legislature, (Punjab) and was convicted by the learned Trial Court subsequently.”
The complainant’s counsel submitted that “it is not the first case, where the FIR has been registered against the appellant. There are other cases as well where the appellant has been cited as an accused in the FIR registered against him and said cases are pending Trial. The accused/appellant cannot seek the stay of conviction as a matter or right, as previous cases registered against him shows his character, antecedents and mental propensity.”
The Court observed that the “appellant was elected as member of State Legislature in the general elections which were conducted in February 2022. As per section 8(3) of Representation of the People Act, 1951, provides for the disqualification of the member of the Legislature in case he is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for more than two years.”
The Court noted that “the special circumstances are attracted in this case as the disqualification of the appellant from the State Legislature would also make the people of his constituency unrepresented. In case the conviction is not stayed and the appellant is disqualified, the fresh elections would be required to be conducted for electing a representative from the assembly constituency represented by the appellant.”
On May 30, 2022, the Court stayed the Dr Balbir Singh’s conviction during the pendency of the appeal and said, “In case the conviction is not stayed, then it would also result into heavy burden on the State exchequer as the appellant would be disqualified with the present conviction and the State would be required to conduct the elections for electing a member from the said assembly constituency.”