New Delhi: A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to bar politicians with pending criminal charges from contesting elections. Instead, the court urged the parliament to consider such a disqualification, saying the country eagerly awaits its decision, The Hindu reported.
According to Bar&Bench, the apex court, while noting that India has seen a steady rise in the criminalisation of politics, has put the onus on the parliament to end to the practice.
Led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, the bench also comprising justices A.M. Khanwilkar, Rohinton Nariman, D.Y. Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, asked the parliament to empower the Election Commission (EC) to tackle candidates with past criminal records. The court also held that each candidate would now be required to disclose their criminal antecedents to the EC before contesting an election.
Among the slew of directions for curbing criminalisation of politics, the court on Tuesday asked political parties to publish records of criminal pasts of the candidates on their websites and publicise it “to ensure voters make an informed choice,” calling it the “cornerstone of democracy”, The Hindu reported.
The bench, according to The Hindu, clarified that the apex court cannot legislate for the parliament. “The court declares the law, the parliament makes the law,” justice Nariman observed.
Addressing attorney general K.K. Venugopal’s submissions during the hearings that a person is presumed innocent until he is proven guilty, CJI Misra said, “It is one thing to take cover under the presumption of innocence, but it is another to allow politics to be smeared by criminal stain.”
The court further stated that the parliament should also consider the issue of false cases being filed against politicians.
The court’s unanimous verdict was pronounced on a batch of petitions seeking to bar politicians facing charges of heinous crimes like murder, rape and kidnapping from contesting elections. Under the Representation of the People Act, while convicted politicians are disqualified, the same does not apply to accused ones.
The petitions were filed by various parties, including NGO Public Interest Foundation and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.
As per the NGO’s plea, given that 34% of lawmakers came with a criminal background in 2014, it was unlikely that the parliament would introduce any law to stop the “criminalisation of politics”. On his part, Upadhyay had demanded barring all convicted politicians from joining electoral politics for life.
As per the Scroll.in report, EC endorsed the idea of barring convicts from contesting elections as well as preventing their entry into the judiciary and legislatures. At present, politicians convicted of crimes that carry a prison term of over two years cannot contest elections for six years after they leave prison.
According to a report from the Association for Democratic Reforms, one in every three MPs elected in 2014 – or 184 of the 542 winners analysed – had declared criminal cases against them. This was higher than the number in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections (158). Maharashtra had the highest number of winners with criminal cases against them, followed by Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Karnataka.
(With agency inputs)