Supreme Court asks Parliament to frame laws to bar those accused of crimes from fighting elections

The Supreme Court directed political parties to publish online the pending criminal cases of their candidates and urged Parliament to bring a “strong law” to cleanse political parties of leaders facing trial for serious crimes.

A bunch of pleas had been filed raising questions whether lawmakers, who face a criminal trial, can be disqualified from fighting elections at the stage of framing of charges against them.

The court observed that it cannot enter the legislative arena to provide disqualification of candidates, who are facing serious criminal cases against them. However, it asked the candidates to put in a bold letter her/his criminal antecedents in the required affidavit.

The SC said each political party will put on its website the criminal antecedents of each of its candidates so as to allow the voters to make an informed choice.

Currently, under the Representation of Peoples (RP) Act, lawmakers cannot contest elections only after their conviction in a criminal case.

Section 8 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951 disqualifies a person convicted with a sentence of two years or more from contesting elections. But those under trial continued to be eligible to contest elections. The Lily Thomas case (2013), however, ended this unfair advantage.

Protecting the parliamentary system from criminalization has been the intention of the law from the beginning.

Efforts by SC in this regard:

  • The SC has repeatedly expressed concern about the purity of legislatures.
  • In 2002, it made it obligatory for all candidates to file an affidavit before the returning officer, disclosing criminal cases pending against them.
  • The famous order to introduce NOTA was intended to make political parties think before giving tickets to the tainted.
  • In its landmark judgment of March 2014, the SC accepted the urgent need for cleansing politics of criminalization and directed all subordinate courts to decide on cases involving legislators within a year, or give reasons for not doing so to the chief justice of the high court.

The trend:

  • According to the ADR’s analysis of EC data, 187 MPs in the current Lok Sabha face criminal charges (that is, 34.4 percent). Of them, 113 face serious criminal charges. The number has gone up from 162 (76 serious) charges in 2009 and 128 (58 serious) in 2004.

Main reasons for Criminalization:

  • Corruption
  • Vote bank.
  • Lack of governance.

What is the way out?

  • There are three possible options.
  • One, political parties should themselves refuse tickets to the tainted.
  • Two, the RP Act should be amended to debar persons against whom cases of a heinous nature are pending from contesting elections.
  • Three, fast-track courts should decide the cases of tainted legislators quickly.

Suggested measure to curb criminalization of politics:

  • Bringing greater transparency in campaign financing is going to make it less attractive for political parties to involve gangsters.
  • The Election Commission of India (ECI) should have the power to audit the financial accounts of political parties, or political parties’ finances should be brought under the right to information (RTI) law.
  • Broader governance will have to improve for voters to reduce the reliance on criminal politicians.
  • Fast-track courts are necessary because politicians are able to delay the judicial process and serve for decades before prosecution.
  • The Election Commission must take adequate measures to break the nexus between the criminals and the politicians.
  • The forms prescribed by the Election Commission for candidates disclosing their convictions, cases pending in courts and so on in their nomination papers is a step in the right direction if it applied properly.

Corruption and criminalization of politics are hitting at the roots of democracy. Therefore, Parliament must take steps urgently to curb this menace. Candidates and political parties must give wide publicity to criminal cases pending against her/him in the local media, both print and electronic, after s/he files nomination to contest elections.

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