The Times of India

KOLKATA: One in every five candidates contesting in the first phase of Assembly elections has a criminal charge pending. Of the 49 candidates with criminal charges, 27 are charged under serious IPC sections, like waging war against the state, murder, attempt to murder, extortion and theft.

Nine out of 253 candidates in the fray are crorepatis and one has no asset at all. And half of the candidates have never filed income tax returns and do not posses a PAN card. The analysis carried out by the Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch - a nationwide campaign comprising over 1,200 NGOs and other citizen-led organizations working on electoral reforms, improving democracy and governance in the country - is based on affidavits submitted by candidates to the Election Commission.

All major political parties have given tickets to candidates with pending cases. The ratio is highest in SUCI at 56% (5 out of 9). It is followed by the Congress at 37% (10 out of 27), Forward Bloc at 30% (3 out of 10), CPM at 25% (8 out of 32), BSP at 22% (2 out of 9) and Trinamool Congress at 15.4% (4 out of 26). Among those with serious cases, CPM and Congress have five candidates each, BJP has fielded four, Forward Bloc three, and Trinamool and GJM two each. "While there is no technical bar on candidates with criminal cases, in several instances, there has been a conviction in a lower court and the case is now pending in a higher court.

We believe, political parties have a moral responsibility to field clean candidates," said West Bengal Election Watch coordinator Biplab Halim. The parties, though, stuck to the stand that unless convicted, one could not be pronounced guilty. "It is easy to frame charges against anyone. Also, lower court verdicts can be challenged and overturned at a higher court," was the common refrain. On the finance front, nine of 253 (4%) candidates contesting in the first phase are crorepatis.

Of them, Trinamool and Congress have three each and RSP, Forward Bloc and Samajwadi Party have one each. At the other extreme, BJP has a candidate with no assets - immovable or otherwise. Of the 253 candidates, 57% of 143 candidates have never filed income tax returns and have not given PAN details. The CPM has 15 candidates who have never filed I-T returns, followed by Congress with 11, Trinamool and SUCI with seven each, RSP with four and Forward Bloc with three. While 70 candidates in the fray are graduates, 17 are graduate professionals, 29 are postgraduate, four possess doctoral degree. One is illiterate, five are just about literate, 42 have passed Class VIII, 38 are Class X passouts and 44 have cleared their Class XII exams.

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