SC moots steps to clean up politics

The Supreme Court proposed to make political parties accountable for criminalizing politics by welcoming in “crooks” who may later win elections on the party ticket and grab power.

The Court may direct the Election Commission to insist that parties get new members to declare in an affidavit their criminal antecedents and publish them so that the “entire country knows how many criminals there are in a party.”

The court said the EC could de-register a party or withdraw its symbol if it refused to comply.

The suggestion was made by the court in a bid to prevent criminals from entering politics or later contesting elections to become parliamentarians, legislators, and Ministers.

However, the center has opposed this move suggesting the following reasons:

A political party has a right to field its candidate. Mere charges of having committed a crime cannot be used to prevent a person from contesting elections. The suggestion made by the court amounts to prematurely disqualifying a candidate. Besides, the court is taking on itself a matter of the legislature.

The court based its proposal on the following:

Article 324 and Section 29A of RPA: The power of the Election Commission to conduct an election and register/de-register political parties under Article 324 of the Constitution and Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act of 1951, respectively.

The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order of 1968. Section 29A requires a party to swear to uphold the principles of socialism, secularism, democracy, sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India.

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

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.

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.

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.

Far from denying tickets to criminals, all political parties seem to have been in competition to give them more and more tickets. They have been unitedly opposing the proposal to debar perpetrators of even heinous offenses during the pendency of trial on the grounds that false criminal cases may be filed by opponents. This concern is partly valid.

To counter the concern expressed, the proposal has three safeguards:

First, all criminal cases would not invite the ban — only heinous offenses like murder, dacoity, rape, kidnapping or moral turpitude.

Second, the case should have been registered at least a year before the elections.

Third, the court must have framed the charges.

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.

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