Context: About a quarter of the sitting Rajya Sabha members have declared criminal cases against themselves, according to an analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) released recently.
More on the analysis by ADR:
- The report said an analysis of 229 of the 233 Rajya Sabha seats that represent the States and Union Territories showed that 54 MPs or 24% had declared criminal cases.
- Out of the 229 MPs, which also included the newly-elected representatives, 28 or 12% had declared serious criminal cases.
- 203 of the 229 MPs or 89% of those analyzed had declared assets over ₹1crore.
Need for cleansing the politics:
- Politics dominate governance: As politics dominates the bureaucracy, and reins in business, civil society and the media, the governance needs to be free from criminal virus.
- Politically motivated cases by opponents: The attempt to exclude candidates against whom charges had been framed by a court of law for heinous offenses may lead to serve the political vendetta of the ruling party against their opponents.
- Demand from voters: Legislators today are not seen as lawmakers, but problem solvers.
- With our criminal justice system clogged with cases and lawyers fees often far beyond the affordability, the local don standing for elections is often seen as the messiah for delivering quick justice.
Attempts by judiciary to cleanse politics:
- Public Interest Foundation v. Union of India(2018): The court ordered political parties to publish the criminal details of their candidates in their respective websites and print as well as electronic media for public awareness.
- The court held that there is a lack of information about tainted candidates among the citizenry.
- The recent judgment was based on a contempt petition filed about the general disregard shown by political parties to this 2018 Constitution Bench judgment.
- Association for Democratic Reforms(ADR) v. Union of Indian: A 2002 judgment of the SC made it obligatory for all candidates to file an affidavit before the returning officer, disclosing criminal cases pending against them.
- PUCL v. Union of India: In its 2013 judgment SC upheld the constitutional right of citizens to cast a negative vote in elections.
- The famous order to introduce None of the above (NOTA) was intended to make political parties think before giving tickets to the tainted.
- Lily Thomas v. Union of India (2013): The Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act that allowed convicted lawmakers a three-month period for filing appeals to the higher court and to get a stay on the conviction and sentence.
- Public Interest Foundation and Ors. v Union of India (2014): In its landmark judgment of SC 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.
- Need for strong legislation: To regulate the functioning of political parties and an unbiased and independent authority to implement it.
- Judicial activism is an exception rather than a rule: Hence recourse to judicial activism needs to be taken carefully.
- Being vigilant: In the coming elections, there is the need to be far more vigilant. This includes
- Monitoring the affidavits of candidates.
- Working with the Election Commission to ensure that information is promptly available on their websites, and
- Widely circulating this information to voters using all the social media tools available.
So far whatever significant electoral reforms have taken place have emanated from the Supreme Court. It remains to be seen how the recent judgment will affect the choices of the political establishment and whether it will have the desired effect in eliminating criminality from future legislatures.
Image Source: TH