Ahead of the 2014 general elections, the Election Commission has proposed to the Supreme Court that a person should be debarred from contesting elections if a court has framed charges against him/her for an offence attracting a jail term of five years or more.
In an affidavit filed at the apex court, the poll panel said disqualification of candidates against whom a court has framed charges would serve the larger public interest.
However, it said only those cases in which charges were framed six months before the election should be considered for disqualification from contesting polls.
The Supreme Court is hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by an NGO, Public Interest Foundation, seeking a direction to ban persons charged with a criminal offence from fighting elections.
The SC has passed a series of orders on electoral reforms since July last, including immediate disqualification of an MP or MLA on conviction in a criminal case. The apex court also said that freebies promised in manifestos vitiate poll process and asked EC to consult parties and frame guidelines to regulate it. It also empowered voters by giving ‘none of the above’ (NOTA) option in EVMs.
The EC’s stand is at variance with that of the UPA government, which had rejected its proposal. Rejecting Centre’s apprehension that such a proposal could lead to filing of motivated cases against political rivals, the EC stated: “…the above apprehension is misplaced and the judicial system of the country cannot be decried.”
The EC’s affidavit, to be considered by a bench headed by Justice RM Lodha, stated: “At this juncture (after framing of charges), the integrity and character of the accused is under scrutiny and he ceases to have requisite excellence and integrity to be considered as a candidate for a high public office involved in the administration of the country and dignity of the House concerned.”
A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievance, Law and Justice had disagreed with EC’s proposal, saying it was a departure from the existing legal provisions. Also, the Committee was of the view that prosecution in many cases was bound to be influenced by the party in power.
However, the EC clarified in its affidavit that charges were framed against an accused on judicial scrutiny of evidence. “Thus, only after judicial notice has been taken of the charges against the accused and after the competent court has found that a prima facie case exists against the accused, is a charge framed,” the commission told the court.