The Times of India
New Delhi

NEW DELHI: The Election Commission and transparency activists have welcomed the Supreme Court judgment on disqualification of convicted MPs/MLAs, with a senior EC functionary saying the order had achieved in one stroke what the commission had been seeking from lawmakers for the last two decades. 

The EC has for long tried to impress upon the politicians the need to toughen Section 8 of the Representation of People's Act to effectively tackle criminalization of politics. As part of its proposed electoral reforms, the EC sought disqualification of an MP/MLA accused of serious criminal charges, upon framing of charges against him by a court of law. To guard against motivated cases by the ruling party, the EC even left a window open, proposing that only cases filed six months prior to an election lead to disqualification. 

As per the electoral reforms proposed by the EC, even persons found guilty by a commission of inquiry would stand disqualified from contesting elections. 

"These reforms only gathered dust over the years, with governments, irrespective of the party in power, showing no signs of implementing them. The Supreme Court order today has finally delivered what the political class had been resisting for years, for obvious reasons," an EC functionary said. 

Transparency activists said the SC order would boost electoral reforms. Prof Jagdeep Chhokar of Association for Democratic Reforms said, "This is a significant step towards reducing criminals sitting in our legislatures. As a result of this order, our legislatures will be better than the past.'' 

The number of MPs with pending criminal cases has increased from 128 in Lok Sabha in 2004 to 162 in 2009, according to data analysed by ADR. 

PRS Legislative's Mandira Kala said the order was in line with the slew of committees and reports on electoral reforms in the last several years. In fact, the large number of public representatives with pending criminal cases was a major issue raised by Team Anna to drive home the point that corruption was deeply imbedded in the system. 

As recently as January 2013, the Justice Verma committee had noted that filing of chargesheet and cognizance by a court was sufficient for disqualification of a candidate under the Act. It also recommended that candidates should be disqualified for committing sexual offences. 

Earlier, Law Commission's report of 1998 had recommended that in case of electoral offences and certain other serious offences, framing of charges by the court should itself be ground for disqualification in addition to conviction. Relevant provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure should also be amended to check false complaints, the report said. 

Justice Kuldeep Singh panel in 2002 said "to prevent criminalization of politics, the candidates with a criminal background or those facing substantial criminal charges framed by a court be debarred from contesting elections". 

According to ADR, 1,460 out of 4807 (30%) sitting MPs and MLAs have declared criminal cases against themselves in their sworn affidavits submitted to the EC prior to contesting elections. Of these, 688 (14%) out of the total sitting MPs and MLAs analyzed have declared serious criminal cases against themselves. 

About 162 (30%) out of the 543 Lok Sabha MPs have declared criminal cases against themselves while 14% of the current Lok Sabha MPs have declared serious criminal cases against themselves. 

While 258 (31%) out of the 4,032 sitting MLAs from all state assemblies have declared criminal cases against themselves, about 15% of the current MLAs from all state assemblies have declared serious criminal cases against themselves. 

The 2009 Jharkhand assembly has the highest percentage of elected representatives (74%) who declared criminal cases against themselves with 55 out of 74 MLAs doing so. 

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