New Delhi

New DelhiLawmakers have to quit if they are convicted of a crime and can't stay on regardless of appeals to higher courts, the Supreme Court today said, in a big leap towards cleaning up Indian politics.

The top court struck down a provision in the Representation of the People's Act (RPA) that protects convicted MPs and MLAs from disqualification if they appeal to a higher court.

"The disqualification takes place from the date of conviction," said a bench of justices A K Patnaik and S J Mukhopadhaya. (Read the verdict on convicted lawmakers)

The verdict won't affect lawmakers who have already filed appeals against their conviction.

A petition had said that allowing such lawmakers to stay in office was "discriminatory and encouraged criminalization of politics'. The petition sought to highlight the dichotomy in the laws that allow convicted lawmakers to stay on but ban a person convicted and sentenced to a term of over two years from even contesting an election.

The government's affidavit had argued against MPs and MLAs being disqualified.

Reacting to the verdict, Law minister Kapil Sibal said: "We are studying it and will hold consultations."

Many political parties fear that the verdict could be misused to settle scores, but officially, the two main national parties Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) welcomed it.

"We welcome any ruling that seeks to cleanse the political system," said Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury.

Similarly BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said: "I would like to say that the BJP on principle has welcomed efforts to purify the political system."

Nearly 150 of the 543 current members of Parliament have criminal cases pending against them, according to a study by two non-government organisations, the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW).

According to the survey based on poll affidavits, some 15 MPs have at least one murder charge against them

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