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SC should have passed order on netas facing charges, say former election commissioners

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court said it was up to Parliament to pass a law to ensure those facing criminal charges do not enter politics. The court did ask for adequate disclosure of these charges, but the activists and former election officials would have liked more.

india Updated: Sep 27, 2018 21:50 IST
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Supreme Court,Parliament
A study by the election watchdog, Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), released in July showed 21% or 1,024 lawmakers in the country have declared that they are facing serious criminal charges.(Reuters/Picture for representation)

Activists and former election commissioners expressed disappointment at the Supreme Court for not passing an order barring politicians facing criminal charges from contesting polls or not ordering political parties themselves to do so, detailing just who should be barred.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court said it was up to Parliament to pass a law to ensure those facing criminal charges do not enter politics. The court did ask for adequate disclosure of these charges, but the activists and former election officials would have liked more.

The poll panel had earlier written to the law ministry that those facing criminal charges, framed by a competent magistrate at least six months before the scheduled date of an election (and which, if proven, entail a minimum punishment of five years) should be disqualified from contesting elections.

There are currently no such restrictions on contesting polls. Only those convicted cannot, for a period of six years.

Former chief election commissioner TS Krishnamurthy said the court should have given a direction to political parties to frame the law, specifying who should be barred (from electoral politics).

“I am not sure whether the parties will carry out this direction [to frame laws] without diluting it. If the parties are required only to furnish information about criminal cases, that is not enough,” he said.

Another former CEC SY Qureshi also said the Supreme Court should not have left it to the politicians to draft the law. “This (order) is disappointing but not surprising. We have been trying to get the government to pass the law for decades, but have failed. The SC was our only hope, as it has been the guarding angel of democracy and elections,” he said.

On the issue of SC asking candidates to make public the criminal cases pending against them, Qureshi said that information has been furnished since 2002 in the affidavits that candidates file before the election commission.

Former CEC HS Brahma however said it was acceptable to let Parliament initiate necessary amendment in the Representation of People’s Act. “…so that ECI could initiate necessary action to check the entry of criminals into politics,” he said.

A study by the election watchdog, Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) released in July showed 21% or 1,024 lawmakers in the country have declared that they are facing serious criminal charges.

Jagdeep Chhokar of ADR said the judgment is “disappointing” because it “overlooked the spirit of law.”

“There is a provision that if there is a gap in legislation and the legislature has been unable to fill it, the judiciary is duty-bound to fill it. In the past 16-17 years the legislature has not felt it appropriate to pass the law and the judiciary has been over cautious and unduly politically correct,” he added.

First Published: Sep 25, 2018 22:35 IST