New Delhi: Declining to bar those facing serious criminal cases from contesting elections, the Supreme Court Tuesday left it to Parliament to enact a “strong law” before the “malignancy” of criminalisation of politics becomes “fatal” to democracy.
According to the prevalent law, lawmakers and candidates are barred under the Representation of Peoples (RP) Act from entering the poll fray only after their conviction in a criminal case.
The court, however, passed a slew of directions aimed at keeping those with criminal antecedents at bay one of which was each candidate will have to state “in bold letters” about pending criminal cases in the form provided by the Election Commission.
The candidate and the concerned political party were also directed to issue a declaration in widely circulated newspapers in the locality and in electronic media about his or her antecedents.
The court said the nation was “eagerly” waiting for a legislation as the society has legitimate expectation to be governed by proper constitutional governance and citizens cannot be compelled to stand as “silent, deaf and mute spectators” to corruption by projecting themselves as helpless.
Holding that criminalisation of politics is an “extremely disastrous and lamentable situation” and the “polluted stream of politics” needs to be cleansed, a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra in its unanimous verdict said this “unsettlingly increasing trend” has the propensity to “send shivers down the spine of a constitutional democracy”.
“A time has come that the Parliament must make law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter into the political stream.
“We are sure, the law making wing of the democracy of this country will take it upon itself to cure the malignancy,” it said.
The 100-page verdict was pronounced on a batch of pleas raising a question whether lawmakers facing criminal trial can be disqualified from contesting elections at the stage of framing of charges against them. The PILs were filed by NGO ‘Public Interest Foundation’, BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay and others.
A senior government funnctionary welcomed the verdict, saying it seeks to cleanse the polity of criminal elements. He, however, said issues like politically motivated cases have to be considered. The official said the government will study the order in detail and decide the next course of action.
He pointed out that several of the directions given by the top court have already been implemented, including filing of affidavits by candidates giving details of criminal cases against them.
“Substantial efforts have to be undertaken to cleanse the polluted stream of politics by prohibiting people with criminal antecedents so that they do not even conceive of the idea of entering into politics. They should be kept at bay,” the court said.
The bench, which also comprised Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, said malignancy of criminalisation of politics was “not incurable” but the issue was required to be dealt with soon before it becomes “fatal” to the democracy.
The bench said complete information about criminal antecedents of the candidates forms the “bedrock of wise decision-making and informed choice by the citizenry” as informed choice was the cornerstone to have a pure and strong democracy.
The court also referred to the 244th report of the Law Commission and cited its finding that in 10 years since 2004, 18 per cent candidates contesting elections have criminal cases pending against them (11,063 out of 62,847).
“The voters cry for systematic sustenance of constitutionalism. The country feels agonized when money and muscle power become the supreme power,” the bench said, adding it was imperative that persons who enter public life and participate in law making should be above any kind of serious criminal allegation.
Underlining the need for giving citizens an “informed choice” and infusing a culture of purity in politics, the bench said increasing trend of criminalisation of politics tends to disrupt constitutional ethos and strikes at the very root of our democratic form of government.
The bench also took note of the submissions of Attorney General K K Venugopal that the court should not cross the ‘lakshman rekha’ vis-a-vis the separation of powers and said it was well settled in law that the court cannot legislate.
The apex court while recommending that Parliament bring out a “strong law” said it would be mandatory for the political parties to revoke membership of persons against whom charges were framed in heinous and grievous offences and not to set up such persons in elections for Parliament as also State Assemblies.
“If a candidate is contesting an election on the ticket of a particular party, he/she is required to inform the party about the criminal cases pending against him/her,” it said, adding that “the concerned political party shall be obligated to put up on its website the aforesaid information pertaining to candidates having criminal antecedents”.
The apex court also said that criminalisation of politics was never an “unknown phenomenon” in Indian political system but its presence was seemingly felt in its “strongest form” during the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts which was the result of a collaboration of a diffused network of criminal gangs, police and customs officials and their political patrons.