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February 2020
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National News
Decriminalising politics: SC directs parties to publicise pending criminal cases of candidates
 
New Delhi: In a far-reaching verdict aimed at decriminalising Indian politics, the Supreme Court directed political parties on Thursday to upload on their websites and social media platforms the details of pending criminal cases against their candidates and the reasons for selecting them as also for not giving ticket to those without criminal antecedents. It said these details should be published within 48 hours of the selection of the candidate or at least two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations, whichever is earlier. "The political party concerned shall then submit a report of compliance with these directions with the Election Commission within 72 hours of the selection of the said candidate," said the bench of Justices R F Nariman and S Ravindra Bhat.

The details should also be published on official social media platforms of the political parties, including Facebook and Twitter, and also in one local vernacular and one national newspaper, the apex court directed. The reasons for selecting candidates having pending criminal cases should be with reference to their qualifications, achievements and merit and not merely on "winnability" at the polls, it said. "It appears that over the last four general elections, there has been an alarming increase in the incidence of criminals in politics," the bench said referring to the data placed before it. "We have also noted that the political parties offer no explanation as to why candidates with pending criminal cases are selected as candidates in the first place," it said.

If a political party fails to submit the compliance report of the directives with the Election Commission, the poll panel "shall bring such non-compliance" to the notice of the Supreme Court "as being in contempt of this Court''s orders/ directions", the bench said. The apex court delivered the verdict on a contempt plea which had raised issues regarding criminalisation of politics in India and claimed that directions given by the top court in its September 2018 verdict relating to disclosure of criminal antecedents by candidates are not being followed. The top court noted that 24 per cent of the MPs had criminal cases pending against them in 2004 while in 2009, it went to 30 per cent. Further, in 2014, 34 per cent of MPs had pending criminal cases against them, which increased to 43 per cent in 2019.

In September 2018, a five-judge Constitution bench had unanimously held that all candidates will have to declare their criminal antecedents to the Election Commission before contesting polls and called for a wider publicity, through print and electronic media about antecedents of candidates. Referring to the 2018 verdict, the bench said, "In this judgment, this court was cognisant of the increasing criminalisation of politics in India and the lack of information about such criminalisation amongst the citizenry." The bench, which passed the directions on Thursday in exercise of its powers under Articles 129 and 142 of the Constitution, said the apex court had passed directives in the 2018 verdict "in order to remedy this information gap".

"It shall be mandatory for political parties [at the central and state election level] to upload on their website detailed information regarding individuals with pending criminal cases (including the nature of the offences, and relevant particulars such as whether charges have been framed, the concerned Court, the case number etc.) who have been selected as candidates, along with the reasons for such selection, as also as to why other individuals without criminal antecedents could not be selected as candidates," it said. In its September 2018 verdict, the top court had left it to Parliament to "cure the malignancy" of criminalisation of politics by making a law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter the political arena as the "polluted stream of politics" needs to be cleansed.

During the hearing on the contempt plea, the EC had told the court that increase in number of MPs having pending criminal cases was "disturbing". The poll panel had agreed with the suggestions of senior lawyer Gopal Sankaranarayanan, representing BJP leader and petitioner Ashiwini Upadhyay, including that all political parties should mandatorily upload on their website details of candidates with criminal antecedents along with the reasons as to why those without any criminal record could not be selected. However, the EC had said it was not agreeable to the suggestion regarding penalising the political party or its candidates under Article 324 of the Constitution for their failure to disclose criminal antecedents, as it does not have this power.

On October 10, 2018, the EC had issued notification regarding the amended Form-26 and directions to political parties and candidates for publication of criminal antecedents. However, the plea filed by Upadhyay had alleged that the EC neither amended the Election Symbol Order, 1968 nor the model code of conduct (MCC) so the said notification has no legal sanction.


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