Political parties under SC lens: Share reasons for fielding tainted faces, asks apex court

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Published: February 14, 2020 4:40:45 AM

The top court makes it mandatory for parties to publish details of pending criminal cases against candidates, reasons for their selection

SC bench led by Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman refrained from barring people with criminal antecedents from contesting elections

Anguished over an alarming increase in criminalisation of politics over the last four general elections, the Supreme Court on Thursday directed all political parties to upload on their websites and social platforms details of pending criminal cases against candidates contesting polls so that an ordinary voter can have an informed choice about who she has to vote for. The court said these details should be published within 48 hours of the selection of the candidate or at least two weeks before the first date for filing of nomination, whichever is earlier.

Further, the court also asked parties to state the reasons for selection of such people as candidates, as also as to why other individuals without criminal antecedents could not be chosen. Though the SC bench led by Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman refrained from barring people with criminal antecedents from contesting elections, it apparently hoped that the parties might find the obligation to publish such details a strong deterrent. However, even now, the candidates are required to give details of criminal cases pending against them in their electoral affidavits and there is little proof that this has dissuaded parties from fielding persons charge-sheeted of with serious offences (see chart). Also, many parties could complain that the court is stepping into their democratic and operational freedom by virtually asking for the criteria for selection of candidates.

The reasons for selecting candidates with pending criminal cases should be justifiable with reference to qualification, achievements and merit and not merely “winnability” at the polls, the court said. The Bench also directed that political parties will publish these details on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and in one local vernacular and one national newspaper.

Political parties will then have to submit a compliance report in this regard to the Election Commission within 72 hours of selecting candidates having pending criminal cases against them, according to the SC. It directed that the EC shall bring it to the notice of the apex court in case of failure of political parties to comply with its directions.

The information which parties fielding candidates for Parliament and state assembly polls have to make public under the SC directive include pending criminal cases (including the nature of the offences, whether charges have been framed, the concerned court, the case number etc.) against those selected as candidates.

Justice Nariman, writing for the Bench, said that over the last four general elections there has been an alarming increase in the incidence of criminals in politics. “In 2004, 24% of the Members of Parliament had criminal cases pending against them; in 2009, that went up to 30%; in 2014 to 34%; and in 2019 as many as 43% of MPs had criminal cases pending against them,” he added.

Under the Representation of the People Act, only convicted lawmakers are disqualified from contesting elections for Parliament and state assemblies. The slew of directions came on two contempt pleas, including one by BJP leader Ashiwini Upadhyay, claiming that the SC’s September 2018 directions relating to disclosure of criminal antecedents by candidates are not being complied with.

In September 2018, a five-judge Constitution bench had unanimously held that all candidates will have to declare their criminal antecedents to the Election Commission before contesting polls and called for a wider publicity.
While terming criminal politicians as a “liability,” it had left it to Parliament to “cure the malignancy” and clean the “polluted stream of politics” by making a law to ensure those facing criminal cases are kept at bay.

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