NEW DELHI, Feb 13:
Holding that candidates for elections should not be selected merely on their “winnability”, the Supreme Court today directed political parties to make public within 48 hours details of pending criminal cases against them, in a far-reaching verdict aimed at decriminalising politics.
The political parties were ordered to upload on their official websites and social media platforms details of the pending criminal cases against their candidates and the reasons for selecting them with the court observing there has been an “alarming increase” in the incidence of criminals in politics since the 2004 Lok Sabha polls.
The court said this should be done within 48 hours of the selection of the candidate for Lok Sabha and Assembly polls 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 court also directed as to why other individuals without criminal antecedents could not be selected as candidates.
Besides making available the details of the pending criminal cases on the official social media platforms of the political parties, including Facebook and Twitter, the court directed it should be also published in one vernacular and one national newspaper.
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.”
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.
Reacting to the order, the BJP said it would strengthen electoral democracy.
BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said the directions would enable voters to make a choice keeping “all factors” in mind when they cast their vote.
On the other hand, the Congress utilised the verdict to take a dig at the BJP over appointing a minister in Karnataka who is accused in mining cases. It alleged that the court directive has already been torn to shreds by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Today itself, Modi ji has torn to shreds the orders of giving reasons for giving tickets to leaders accused in cases,” Surjewala tweeted with a news report on Anand Singh, accused in mining and forest crimes, being appointed the new minister for forest, environment and ecology in Karnataka.
The apex court delivered the verdict on a contempt plea which 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 up to 30 per cent.
Further, in 2014, 34 per cent of the MPs had pending criminal cases against them, which increased to 43 per cent in 2019.
In September 2018, a five-judge Constitution bench 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 today 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 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. (PTI)
NEW DELHI, Feb 13: