Educational Qualifications of Union Ministers and Legal Consequence

By Venkatesh Nayak

The print and electronic media have gone to town with claims and counter claims about the contents of the election affidavits submitted by some Ministers of the National Democratic Alliance Government (NDA). I have attached a compilation of the educational qualifications, as disclosed on oath by the Ministers of the NDA, during the recently concluded elections (1st attachment). These affidavits are available on the website of the Election Commission of India at:

These findings were originally shared with some journalists two weeks ago when the controversies broke out. Some of them appear to have published stories containing similar findings after cross checking the affidavits on their own.

Our Findings:

Caveat: As some Ministers did not contest the elections to the 16th Lok Sabha their educational qualifications have been sourced from the websites of the previous Lok Sabhas or the Rajya Sabha depending upon their membership of either House. In cases where no information was available from any of these sources, data has been collected from their own dedicated website or Wikipedia.)

The available data may be summarised as follows:

1) The Hon’ble Prime Minister has declared himself an alumnus of both Delhi University (BA) and Gujarat University (MA) without naming any college or institute.

2) 3 Ministers have declared PhD Degrees – 1 of Cabinet rank and 2 Ministers of State (of which 1 has independent charge) . 1 Minister of State (Independent charge) has an M.Phil degree. Two of these four Ministers are women.

3) A total of 16 Ministers have declared law degrees, i.e., 9 Cabinet Ministers and 7 Ministers of State (of which 4 have Independent charge). There is only 1 woman in this category.

4) 2 Ministers have advanced medical degrees – 1 of Cabinet rank and another MoS. There is no woman in this category.

5) Excluding the PM and other Ministers counted above, 6 Ministers have postgraduate degrees. Some of the Ministers counted above have postgraduate degrees in addition to other educational qualifications.

6) A total of 9 Ministers have declared only a graduate degree each- 3 are of Cabinet rank and 6 are Ministers of State (of which 2 have independent charge). There are no women in this category.

7) 2 Ministers – both of Cabinet rank, have declared themselves as holders of Diplomas only. There is one woman in this category.

8) A total of 7 Ministers – 5 Cabinet of Cabinet rank and 2 Ministers of State have not declared any graduate degree or diploma. Their declared educational qualifications vary from Class 6 – Class 12. Of these 2 are women.

The sole purpose of preparing this compilation (1st attachment) is to enable citizens to have a clearer picture of the educational qualifications of the new Ministers. Educational qualification is no doubt important but it must not become the sole basis for judging the competence of any person. If educational qualifications are made the most important criteria for occupying public posts, several thousand men and women who are unlettered would be disqualified from occupying elected positions in panchayats and municipal bodies in India.

History has been witness to several instances where unlettered leaders have left their mark on society spanning several generations. It is historical fact that the Mughal Emperor Akbar was unlettered, but he not only ruled over a very large part of the Indian sub-continent ably, but also laid down with the help of his ministers a sound land revenue assessment and collection system which served as the basis for the endeavours of other rulers, particularly the East India Company to collect taxes after colonising large parts of the Indian sub-continent.

Further, the inadequacy of educational accomplishments of a person must not be blamed solely on that person. The State has the biggest role to play in ensuring that adequate opportunities are available for all citizens, regardless of their physical and mental capabilities, to access educational facilities at all times in all possible forms. The ultimate responsibility for the educational levels of a people lies with the State although personal choices made by individuals are also a determining factor.

*What are the legal consequences of lying on oath?*

The current controversy is about discrepancies apparent in the election affidavits filed by a Cabinet Minister during elections conducted at different points of time. While this controversy brews on the legal position about furnishing false information in a sworn affidavit is given below:

According to Section 125A of the *Representation of the People Act, 1951- *RP Act (2nd attachment) a candidate who fails to furnish information on a sworn affidavit about any criminal cases pending against him/her or where a case has been decided (resulting in conviction/imprisonment/discharge/acquittal) may be punished with a maximum prison term of six months or with fine or with both.

However, it must be pointed out that Section 125A applies only to non-disclosure of details about criminal cases pending or decided against a candidate. It does not apply to information about one’s assets and liabilities, name of spouses and dependents or professional status and educational qualifications. In its February 2014 report of Electoral Disqualifications (No. 244), the Law Commission of India has pointed out that conviction of a candidate under Section 125A is not a ground for his/her disqualification from continuing as a legislator or from contesting elections to Parliament or State Legislatures for the duration of the prison term awarded and a further period of six years (page 43 onwards in the 3rd attachment).

The Law Commission recommended that the maximum prison term awarded under Section 125A be increased up to 2 years; failure to declare details of criminal cases, past and pending, be made a ground for disqualification; establish a mechanism for quick verification of the claims made by candidates in their electoral affidavits and include the filing of false affidavit in the list of corrupt electoral practice under Section 123 of the RP Act. If a candidate or his/her agent is proven to have indulged in corrupt electoral practices, his/her election can be set aside through an election petition in the relevant High Court. The Law Commission submitted its recommendations to the Supreme Court upon being directed to do so in a Public Interest Litigation matter – *Public Interest Foundation and Ors. vs Union of India* and Anr. [WP(C) 536 of 2011] pending before the Court.

However, knowingly making a false statement on oath or affirmation to a public servant is also a punishable offence under Sec. 181 of the *Indian Penal Code, 1860 *(IPC). The affidavit containing details of criminal cases, if any, assets and liabilities and professional status and educational qualifications is a statement made on oath to the Returning Officer (RO) in charge of elections in a parliamentary or assembly constituency. The RO is a ‘public servant’ under Section 21 of the IPC. So if any person is able to prove that any candidate who contested an election provided false information in the electoral affidavit, a court may send that candidate to prison for a maximum term of three years and also impose a fine. If any successful candidate is sentenced to a prison term of two years or more, such person will be disqualified from continuing to hold that post for the duration of the prison term and for further period of six years under Section 8(3) of the RPA. As an offence under Section 181 is non-cognizable and bailable, the police cannot investigate a complaint without an order from the Magistrate of the first class (JMFC). This is the position in law to the best of my understanding.

(The author is Programme Coordinator of Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative)


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