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Voting after scam 'improper'

The Speaker should have deferred the trust vote and begun a fast-track investigation into the sensational, first-of-its-kind allegation of bribes being paid to MPs to make them breach the party line, constitutional experts said.

The waving of wads of notes in Lok Sabha during the debate on the confidence motion moved by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has cast a long shadow on parliamentary proceedings, the experts said, adding that the Speaker should have put off the vote pending an inquiry despite there being no provision for such deferment.

Senior advocate Rajiv Dhawan and constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap spoke on record favouring deferment of the trust vote. Another top-rung senior advocate and even a law officer of the UPA government agreed with them, but requested that they should not be identified.

Among the experts spoken to by TOI, the lone dissenting note was struck by former attorney general Soli Sorabjee, who said that the Speaker was under no legal or moral obligation to defer the trust vote because the attempt to bribe the MPs was nullified by its disclosure much before the vote.

Dhawan agreed partly with Sorabjee. He said: "True, there is no rule which provides for an occasion that could warrant deferment of a confidence motion." But he put in a strong caveat: "If the MPs who are levelling bribery charges show prima facie proof of corruption that hits at the root of the constitutional and parliamentary process, the Speaker should take a call on it. As in the case of cash-for-query, where the Speaker had taken the decision to expel the guilty MPs, he has to take a decision. He must investigate the complaint and take a decision before proceeding with the trust vote." The Speaker had not yet announced his decision to go ahead with the vote when Dhawan made this observation.

A top law officer of the UPA government, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that there was no legal provision under which a confidence motion could be deferred. But another law officer felt that there should be a thorough inquiry into it by the Speaker, who should have taken a call on deferring the trust vote on account of the enormity of the allegation.

Senior advocate K K Venugopal said the incident showed that Indian politics was at the "bottom of the barrel" and "it is very clear that no amount of amendment to the Constitution or the 10th Schedule (anti-defection law) can stand in the way of political immorality or dirty politics".

Another constitutional authority, who did not want to be named, agreed with Dhawan. He said: "There were two alternatives before the Speaker. He should have suspended the vote on the confidence motion, held an inquiry right through the night — either through the privileges committee or through his nominees — and given a ruling whether the allegations were prima facie true or false before resuming the vote on trust motion."

"If the allegations were prima facie true, he, as in the cash-for-query incident, should have suspended the bribe givers, if they were members of Lok Sabha. But if the allegations were found to be false, then the MPs who made the charges should have been suspended. It is really difficult and as all parties had agreed to proceed with the confidence motion, the Speaker had no option but to go ahead with it."

Kashyap was more straightforward in his comment that the Speaker should have started a fast-track investigation into the sensational allegations on the floor of the House through the privileges committee. "The committee, after a thorough probe, for the purpose of finding the prima facie truthfulness of the charges, should have given a report to the Speaker in the shortest possible time. On that basis, the Speaker should have given a ruling on the issue and could have then proceeded with the trust vote."



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