Refusing to legislate and add a disqualification to bar a candidate from contesting elections on framing of charges in heinous crimes, the Supreme Court on Tuesday 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.
Under the Representation of the People Act, only convicted lawmakers are disqualified from contesting elections for Parliament and state assemblies.
A five-judge Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra urged Parliament to consider such a disqualification as it cannot legislate for Parliament. It said that Parliament was obliged under Article 102 (1) (e) to make a law. “As conscience-keepers of the Constitution, we (SC) can ask you (Parliament) to do it,” it said, adding that the nation is eagerly awaiting the decision on decriminalisation of politics as the society has legitimate expectation to be governed by proper constitutional governance and citizens in a democracy cannot be compelled to stand as “silent, deaf and mute spectators” to corruption by projecting themselves as helpless.
The CJI said that the court was “not in a position to add disqualification of candidates on filing of chargesheet in criminal cases…we are sure, the law making wing of the democracy of this country will take it upon itself to cure the malignancy.”
Stating that criminalisation of politics is an “extremely disastrous and lamentable situation,” the bench in its unanimous decision said that “it is one thing to take cover under the presumption of innocence, but it is another to allow politics to be smeared by criminal stain”.
“There is a steady increase in the level of criminality creeping into politics,” Justice Misra, writing for the bench, said. He further added that criminal politicians are nothing but a liability to this country and this unsettlingly increasing trend in the country has the propensity to “send shivers down the spine of a constitutional democracy”.
Passing a slew of directions to ensure that the ordinary voter can have an “informed choice” about who he has to vote for in a country “tired of money and muscle power,” the apex court said that candidates should give complete information about their criminal past or pending cases to the parties on whose ticket they intend to contest elections and even parties should also issue a declaration on the criminal antecedents of their candidates in a widely circulated newspapers and in electronic media. “When we say wide publicity, we mean that the same shall be done at least thrice after filing of the nomination papers,” it said.
This direction to compel political parties to go public about their candidates is a step to “foster and nurture an informed citizenry” and to protect the “culture and purity in politics.”
The apex court also said that criminalisation of politics was never an “unknown phenomenon” in Indian political system but its presence was seemingly felt in its “strongest form” during the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts which was the result of a collaboration of a diffused network of criminal gangs, police and customs officials and their political patrons.