Context: The Supreme Court in a judgement (February 2020) ordered political parties to publish the entire criminal history of their candidates for Assembly and Lok Sabha elections along with the reasons that stimulate them to field suspected criminals over decent people.
More on the news:
- The judgement may have far-reaching consequences for Indian democracy and it will first be implemented in the coming Bihar elections in October 2020.
- It should mandatorily be published either within 48 hours of the selection of candidates or less than two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations, whichever is earlier.
- The judgment ordered political parties to submit compliance reports with the Election Commission of India within 72 hours or risk contempt of court action.
- The judgment is applicable to parties both at Central and State levels.
Observations made by the SC:
- The published information should be detailed and include the nature of their offences, charges framed against him, the court concerned, case number, etc.
- The information should be published in a local as well as a national newspaper as well as the parties’ social media handles.
- A political party should explain to the public how the qualifications or achievements or merit of a candidate, charged with a crime, impressed it enough to cast aside the stain of his criminal background.
- A party would have to give reasons to the voter that it was not the candidate’s mere winnability at the polls which guided its decision to give him ticket to contest elections.
- Significance: The judgment is in reaction to the unrestricted rise of criminals, often facing heinous charges like rape and murder, encroaching into the country's political and electoral scenes.
- A report by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) has found out that 233 MPs or 43% who won in 2019 have criminal charges against them.
- It appears that over the last four general elections, there has been an alarming increase in the incidence of criminals in 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.
Earlier attempts by judiciary to cleanse politics:
- Association for Democratic Reforms(ADR) v. Union of Indian: A 2002 judgement 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 judgement 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 cleansing the politics:
- Politics dominates 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 offences may lead to serve the political vendetta of the ruling party against their opponents .
- Demand from voters: Legislators today are not seen as law makers, 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.
- Need for a 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