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25.09.2018
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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today refused to add a disqualification clause to ban candidates charged with serious crimes from contesting elections, and left it to Parliament to pass a law.

Through a petition filed in 2011, a civil society group, Public Interest Foundation, had essentially sought guidelines or a framework to deal with the menace of criminalisation of politics, and had demanded that those charged with serious offences be debarred from contesting elections.

Currently, the Representation of the People Act incorporates provisions disqualifying convicted lawmakers from contesting elections, but not the accused who are facing charges.

According to a report by the Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch, at least 34 percent of Lok Sabha MPs have self-declared criminal cases against them. About 22 percent of these face serious criminal charges.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has the highest number of MPs (97) with self-declared criminal cases against them, followed by the Shiv Sena with 15.

Earlier today a constitution bench of the Supreme Court delivered judgement on petitions filed by BJP leader and advocate Ashwini Updhyaya, former Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh, and the Public Interest Foundation.

The bench refused to legislate and add a disqualification clause in which candidates “charged” with heinous crimes should be banned from contesting elections. It left it to Parliament to consider such disqualifications and work them into law.

The judgement included a few directions given by the Supreme Court which Parliament and political parties should keep in mind while creating the law. While giving directions the court also noted, “It is one thing to take cover under the presumption of innocence of the accused, but it is equally imperative that persons who enter public life and participate in law making should be above any kind of serious criminal allegation.

“It is true that false cases are foisted on prospective candidates, but the same can be addressed by the Parliament through appropriate legislation. The nation eagerly waits for such legislation, for society has a legitimate expectation to be governed by proper constitutional governance. Voters cry for the systematic sustenance of constitutionalism. The country feels agonised when money and muscle power become the supreme power.

“Substantial efforts have to be undertaken to cleanse the polluted stream of politics by prohibiting people with criminal antecedents so that they do not even conceive of the idea of entering into politics.”

The directions given by the Supreme Court are as follows:

(i)  Each contesting candidate shall fill up the form as provided by the Election Commission and the form must contain all the particulars as required therein.

(ii)  It shall state, in bold letters, with regard to the criminal cases pending against the candidate.

(iii)  If a candidate is contesting an election on the ticket of a particular party, he/ she is required to inform the party about the criminal cases pending against him/ her.

(iv)  The concerned political party shall be obligated to put up on its website the aforesaid information pertaining to candidates having criminal antecedents.

(v)  The candidate as well as the concerned political party shall issue a declaration in the widely circulated newspapers in the locality about the antecedents of the candidate and also give wide publicity in the electronic media. When we say wide publicity, we mean that the same shall be done at least thrice after filing of the nomination papers.

The Citizen spoke to Professor Jagdeep Chhokar who associated with the Association for Democratic Reforms, a civil society group that works on issues of electoral and political reforms. He said, “It is a sad and disappointing judgement. There is nothing new in this judgement. The Supreme Court has been overly conservative, overly cautious and political in this judgement. There is nothing new in the directions it has given. In the last 15-20 years nothing has been done about this matter by Parliament. How can we trust Parliament on it?”

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