The Supreme Court judgment mandating that those contesting elections must reveal their sources of income is a welcome step towards fostering greater transparency in the electoral arena. Currently, those contesting elections must file an affidavit on behalf of self, spouse and dependents specifying PAN numbers, income declared in tax returns, movable assets like bank accounts and shares, immovable assets like building and jewellery, and financial liabilities like loans. Extending this to also declare sources of income will help government and civil society deduce disproportionate rise of income or assets of lawmakers, which may coincide with periods in power and could be a result of misuse of that power.

SC has ruled, rightly, that voters have a fundamental right to make informed choices when electing their representatives. Knowing a candidate’s criminal or financial background can offer key insights to voters about those they vote for. While India’s per capita income inches its way to a lakh, politicians have leapfrogged into the crorepati class. An Association for Democratic Reforms analysis of election affidavits revealed that 442 Lok Sabha MPs elected in 2014, 52 of 68 Himachal Pradesh MLAs and 141 of 182 Gujarat MLAs who were recently elected declared assets of over a crore each; their true assets could well be much higher.

To put this figure in perspective, the per capita income of India is Rs 86,000, that of Gujarat is Rs 1.22 lakh and Himachal Pradesh is Rs 1.14 lakh at constant 2011-12 prices. Supreme Court has also suggested a law disqualifying those with disproportionate assets. If the government is serious about checking corruption and nepotism, it must pass such a law forthwith. With a generous supply of funds through MPLAD/ MLALAD schemes and significant clout in their constituencies, there are multiple avenues for wrongdoing by lawmakers which the government must plug.

Supreme Court has left it to the Centre to set up a “permanent mechanism” to keep tabs on lawmakers’ wealth. Disproportionate assets cases against politicians take years to culminate (eg, Jayalalithaa and Sasikala) or are wielded covertly to ensure opposition politicians toe the ruling party line. Such perversions have led people to question the arbitrary salary hikes that MPs and MLAs are granting themselves. Resistance to public service for personal enrichment will keep growing. Unless politicians act to isolate rotten apples in their midst, the credibility of the entire political class is at stake.

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