SC says election candidates, their spouses and dependents will have to declare source of income
The Supreme Court on Friday made it mandatory for candidates contesting elections to declare the sources of income for them, their spouses and dependants in a landmark judgement that aims to ensure probity among politicians.
The judgement, which comes 15 years after the top court, in another landmark judgement, asked candidates to disclose their assets also expressed concern that the trend of undue accretion of assets of legislators and their associates is an indicator of the beginning of a failing democracy.
A bench led by Justice J Chelameswar also said that candidates must also disclose their or their families’ interest or stake in government contracts. Directing the concerned authority (the Election Commission ) to make changes in the nomination form, the top court said non-disclosure of such information would amount to corrupt practice under the law, and ground for a lawmaker’s disqualification.
Increase in the assets of legislators or their associates disproportionate to the known sources of their respective incomes is, by compelling inference, a constitutionally impermissible conduct and may eventually constitute an offence under the anti-corruption law, the court said. This should be a ground to disqualify the leaders, it observed.
The SC judgement was delivered on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Lucknow-based NGO, Lok Prahari and will have a bearing on the forthcoming assembly elections scheduled in five states this year, starting with the Karnataka polls.
To enable and empower the citizen to take an informed decision while voting in polls, the court directed the government to put in place a permanent mechanism in place to collect the data of the legislators wealth and place it in public domain.
The Court’s decision was welcomed by all parties. Congress leader Manish Tewari said the move mean that a candidate would have to duplicate his or her income tax return and submit it to the election commission. “This is definitely a good step to further clean up the elections,” he said.
BJP Spokesman GVL Narsimha Rao said: “The BJP welcomes every initiative in increasing transparency and accountability of those contesting elections. Such actions will strengthen our democracy. It may be recalled that the disclosure of educational and financial background of candidates through affidavits was started during the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government.”
Sanjay Jha of the JDU and Rajesh Diskhit of the Samajwadi Party also supported the apex court’s decision.
Incidentally, when the proposal was put forth for feedback by the election commission in March 2016, most of the representatives had opposed it, said a person familiar with the issue.
“Most party representatives were not happy about disclosing the source of incomes,” this person added, asking not to be identified.
A former election commissioner who spoke on condition of anonymity said the move was suggested by the poll panel after it noticed “spikes” in the declared income of several candidates between elections, but found no explanation for the increase in their assets.
“There were many instances where assets had multiplied manifold, but there was no explanation on how these were created. Also, a lot of candidates in their column meant for their profession wrote social activity, without giving specific details of their jobs. The Commission felt as representatives of people, they should give a clear account of their incomes, assets and liabilities,” the former CEC said.