The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to disqualify ministers with criminal cases and placed the onus on the Prime Minister's wisdom.
The apex court also made the point that those involved in serious offences should not be ministers at all. This came as a relief for Narendra Modi as his cabinet has many ministers with criminal pasts, but the shift in onus has again placed a huge responsibility on him.
Here's what the Constitution bench of the country's five senior-most judges, headed by Chief Justice of India RM Lodha, said:
* Corruption is an enemy of the nation. As a trustee of the Constitution, the PM is expected not to appoint unwarranted persons as ministers, no disqualification can be prescribed,
* It is expected that the PM will not appoint persons against whom charges have been framed and he is facing trial. We leave it to the PM and chief ministers.
* The Centre had argued that the dismissal of ministers would be against the constitutional prerogative of the PM and the will of the people, and that once a person is an MP, he is entitled to be in the council of ministers. The court bench accepted the argument, but said, "Constitution reposes immense trust in the PM and chief ministers and they are expected to act with responsibility and with constitutional morality."
* The Constitution empowers the prime minister to make anyone a minister, but a person in conflict with law should not be entrusted with executive responsibilities.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy on Wednesday said that the Supreme Court was wise in not laying down the law on disqualification of ministers. Swamy told ANI, "I think, therefore, the Supreme Court was wise in not laying down the law, because it would have been improper. So, they have done the second best thing and that is an appeal to the conscience of the Prime Minister to try and find out people with clean background."
"It is correct judgment, because strictly speaking the Supreme Court has to go by the law. If there is no law they can't make one, because the power of making law is with the Parliament of India. Now the law is essentially codified in the representation of people's act, which has restrictions on who you would consider as of people with criminal background", he added.
Citing an example, Swamy said, "Supposing there is an FIR, you can't say that the person is having a criminal background. Or even a police charge sheet is not a criminal background. If the charges are framed by the court, after hearing the police version and the defense of the accused, then you can make a case. But even then the law is not presently very clear. Although, last time it was passed as an amendment."
"Now the real question is whether the Prime Minster and the President, lot of politicians, whom he wants to make as ministers, whether they can find people who don't have any cases at all. There are some people I know, I can name a few. But that does not mean that the Prime Minister wants to make them the minister. So, this is the difficulty that the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister will face", added Swamy.
The court was hearing a plea on whether ministers with criminal cases against them can continue to be a part of the government.
According to certain estimates, more than 30% of the ministers in the present government have a criminal background.