publicity-of-criminal-antecedents-of-candidates-during-electioneering-ec-makes-norms-stringent-ie

Context: The Election Commission made the norms of publicity of criminal antecedents of candidates stringent by putting a timeline on when such advertisements should be published and broadcast during electioneering.

Analysis

  • In October, 2018, the Election Commission (EC) had issued directions making it compulsory for candidates contesting elections and the parties fielding them to advertise their criminal antecedents in TV and newspapers at least three times during electioneering.

Now, the EC has made it clear that:

  • the first "publicity" of criminal records should be within first four days of the last date of withdrawal of candidature.
  • the second publicity should be within fifth and eight day of the last date of withdrawal.
  • the third and final publicity should be from ninth day till the last day of campaign -- two days prior to polling day.
  • The timeline would ensure that the advertisements attract the public eye. 
  • There was a feeling that candidates time the publicity of their criminal records in such a way that it fails to grab attention.
  • The poll panel also made it clear that uncontested winning candidates as well as the political parties who nominate them will also publicise the criminal antecedents, if any.
  • Following Supreme Court directions in February 2020, the Election Commission had asked political parties to justify why they chose candidates with criminal history to contest elections, by filling up a form.
  • The parties thus have to now fill up a form to explain the reasons.

Who are uncontested winning candidates? 

  • The Election Commission of India, in its handbook for returning officers, has important details about “unopposed returns". 
  • It says: “If in any constituency there is only one contesting candidate, declare that candidate to have been duly elected immediately after the last hour for withdrawal of candidature. In that event, a poll is not necessary."

February 2020 Supreme Court Judgment 

  • The Supreme Court ordered political parties to publish the entire criminal history of their candidates for Assembly and Lok Sabha elections along with the reasons that goaded them to field suspected criminals over decent people.
  • The judgment was based on a contempt petition filed about the general disregard shown by political parties to a 2018 Constitution Bench judgment (Public Interest Foundation v. Union of India) to publish the criminal details of their candidates in their respective websites and print as well as electronic media for public awareness.
  • If a political party fails to comply, it would be “… in contempt of this Court’s orders/directions.” 
  • Earlier orders state that (a) each candidate shall submit a sworn affidavit giving financial details and criminal cases; (b) each candidate shall inform the political party in writing of criminal cases against him or her; and (c) the party shall put up on its website and on social media as well as publish in newspapers the names and details of such candidates.
  • The entire criminal history of the candidates should be published in a local as well as a national newspaper as well as the parties’ social media handles. 
  • 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.
  • A Bench 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. 
  • The judgment by the Bench signified the court's alarm at the unimpeded rise of criminals, often facing heinous charges like rape and murder, encroaching into the country's political and electoral scenes.
  • In 2004, 24% of the Members of Parliament had criminal cases pending against them; in 2009, that went up to 30%; in 2014 to 34%; and in 2019 as many as 43% of MPs had criminal cases pending against them.