The writ petition was filed by the petitioner assailing the appointment of some of the original respondents as Ministers to the Council of Ministers of Union of India despite their involvement in serious and heinous crimes. The Court observed that criminalization of politics is an anathema to the sacredness of democracy. Systemic corruption and sponsored criminalization can corrode the fundamental core of elective democracy and, consequently, the constitutional governance. Even the Law Commission, in its 244th Report, 2014, has suggested amendment to the 1951 Act by insertion of Section 8B after Section 8A, after having numerous consultations and discussions, with the avowed purpose to prevent criminalization of politics.
The Supreme Court analyzed the constitutional and the statutory provisions which provide for qualifications and disqualifications of Members of Parliament and that of the State Legislature. Article 84 of the Constitution provides for qualifications for membership of Parliament. Article 102 provides for disqualifications for membership. Article 173 provides for qualification for membership of the State Legislature and Article 191 enumerates the disqualifications similar to Article 102. The Parliament by the 1951 Act has prescribed further qualifications and disqualifications to become a Member of Parliament or to become a Member of Legislative Assembly. Section 8 of the Act stipulates the disqualification on conviction for certain offences.
The scheme of disqualification upon conviction laid down by the 1951 Act clearly upholds the principle that a person who has been convicted for certain categories of criminal activities is unfit to be a representative of the people. Criminal activities that result in disqualification are related to various spheres pertaining to the interest of the nation, common citizenry interest, communal harmony, and prevalence of good governance. The 1951 Act lays down that the commission of serious criminal offences renders a person ineligible to contest in elections or continue as a representative of the people. Such a restriction does provide the salutary deterrent necessary to prevent criminal elements from holding public office thereby preserving the probity of representative government.
The Court opined that when there is no disqualification for a person against whom charges have been framed in respect of heinous or serious offences or offences relating to corruption to contest the election, by interpretative process, it is difficult to read the prohibition into Article 75(1) or, for that matter, into Article 164(1) to the powers of the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister in such a manner. That would come within the criterion of eligibility and would amount to prescribing an eligibility qualification and adding a disqualification which has not been stipulated in the Constitution. Hence the Court held that in the absence of any constitutional prohibition or statutory embargo, such disqualification cannot be read into Article 75(1) or Article 164(1) of the Constitution.
On the principle of constitutional silence or silence of the Constitution or constitutional abeyance the court observed that said principle is a progressive one and is applied as a recognized advanced constitutional practice to fill up the gaps in respect of certain areas in the interest of justice and larger public interest.
The Supreme Court discussed the principle of constitutional implication. The Court observed that the doctrine of implication has been applied to expand the constitutional concepts, but the context in which the horizon has been expanded has to be borne in mind. The principle of implication is fundamentally founded on rational inference of an idea from the words used in the text. The concept of legitimate deduction is always recognised. The Court rejected the contention that while interpreting the words “advice of the Prime Minister” it can legitimately be inferred that there is a prohibition to think of a person as a Minister if charges have been framed against him in respect of heinous and serious offences including corruption cases under the criminal law.
The Supreme Court observed that the principle of constitutional morality basically means to bow down to the norms of the Constitution and not to act in a manner which would become violative of the rule of law or reflectible of action in an arbitrary manner. Commitment to the Constitution is a facet of constitutional morality. Institutional respectability and adoption of precautions for the sustenance of constitutional values would include reverence for the constitutional structure.
On the doctrine of good governance the Court observed that it requires the Government to rise above their political interest and act only in the public interest and for the welfare of its people. In a democracy, the citizens legitimately expect that the Government of the day would treat the public interest as primary one and any other interest secondary. The maxim Salus Populi Suprema Lex, has not only to be kept in view but also has to be revered. The growth of democracy is dependant upon good governance in reality and the aspiration of the people basically is that the administration is carried out by people with responsibility with service orientation.
The Supreme Court analyzed the term “advice’ under article 75(1). The Supreme Court interpreted the words “on the advice of the Prime Minister” in the backdrop of the concepts of “constitutional morality”, “good governance”, “constitutional trust” and the special status enjoyed by the Prime Minister under the scheme of the Constitution. The word “advice” conveys formation of an opinion. The said formation of an opinion by the Prime Minister in the context of Article 75(1) is expressed by the use of the said word because of the trust reposed in the Prime Minister under the Constitution. It is a “constitutional advice”. The repose of faith in the Prime Minister by the entire nation under the Constitution has expectations of good governance which is carried on by Ministers of his choice. It is also expected that the persons who are chosen as Ministers do not have criminal antecedents, especially facing trial in respect of serious or heinous criminal offences or offences pertaining to corruption.
The Constitution Bench finally observed that the Prime Minister has been regarded as the repository of constitutional trust. The use of the words “on the advice of the Prime Minister” cannot be allowed to operate in a vacuum to lose their significance. The Prime Minister’s advice is binding on the President for the appointment of a person as a Minister to the Council of Ministers unless the said person is disqualified under the Constitution to contest the election or under the 1951 Act, as has been held in B.R. Kapur’s case. That the Prime Minister would be giving apposite advice to the President is a legitimate constitutional expectation, for it is a paramount constitutional concern. The Prime Minister is expected to act with constitutional responsibility as a consequence of which the cherished values of democracy and established norms of good governance get condignly fructified. The framers of the Constitution left many a thing unwritten by reposing immense trust in the Prime Minister. The scheme of the Constitution suggests that there has to be an emergence of constitutional governance which would gradually grow to give rise to constitutional renaissance.
The Council of Ministers has the collective responsibility to sustain the integrity and purity of the constitutional structure. That is why the Prime Minister enjoys a great magnitude of constitutional power. It is expected that the Prime Minster should act in the interest of the national polity of the nation-state. He has to bear in mind that unwarranted elements or persons who are facing charge in certain category of offences may thwart or hinder the canons of constitutional morality or principles of good governance and eventually diminish the constitutional trust. Prohibition cannot be brought in within the province of ‘advice’ but indubitably, the concepts, especially the constitutional trust, can be allowed to be perceived in the act of such advice.
The Court held that while interpreting Article 75(1), definitely a disqualification could not be added. But regard being had to the role of a Minister in the Council of Ministers and keeping in view the sanctity of oath he takes, the Prime Minister, while living up to the trust reposed in him, is expected not to choose a person with criminal antecedents against whom charges have been framed for heinous or serious criminal offences or charges of corruption to become a Minister of the Council of Ministers. This is what the Constitution suggests and that is the constitutional expectation from the Prime Minister.