NEW DELHI: In a significant verdict aimed at bringing more transparency and accountability in the electoral process, the Supreme Court on Thursday made it mandatory for all political parties to give reasons for fielding candidates with criminal antecedents in general and assembly polls in the country exercising its constitutional powers.
Pronouncing judgement in a batch of contempt petitions, a bench headed by Justice Rohinton F Nariman took note of the "alarming" rise in candidates with criminal charges entering the fray and said it was high time the top court uses its extraordinary powers in the interest of informed citizenry, said a News18 report.
The bench ordered all political parties to publish on party websites, social media and newspapers, details of candidates with criminal background who have been fielded to contest state assembly and general elections with details explaining the nature of the crime and whether charges have been famed or not.
Such details have to be published within 48 hours of filing of nomination in one local newspaper and one national newspaper and on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, the court elaborated, a Hindustan Times report said.
Reasons should also be furnished, the top court said, on why the concerned candidate is being fielded for election. The court observed that the ability of a candidate to win elections should not be the reason furnished for fielding a candidate.
Further, political parties should furnish a compliance report with the Election Commission about compliance with the Court’s directions. Contempt of court case can be initiated on failure of the party to file such compliance report, the court said.
The contempt petitions had pointed out that despite repeated directions by the Supreme Court, the government and election commission have failed to take steps for decriminalisation of politics. The top court in its judgment delivered on September 25, 2018, had suggested enactment of a strong law to decriminalise politics.
Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, one of the petitioners, submitted that pursuant to the judgment of the apex court, the EC issued directions to political parties and candidates to publish criminal antecedents. But the EC did not make the necessary amendments to the rules governing this field - election symbols order and model code of conduct - and hence the directions by the poll body did not have any legal sanction.
Further, the EC did not publish a list of leading newspapers and news channels wherein criminal antecedents of the contesting candidates had to be published. Upadhyay claimed that political parties took advantage of the same and published criminal antecedents in unpopular newspapers and news channels and at odd hours to evade scrutiny.
The plea also said that the consequences of permitting criminals to contest elections and become legislators are extremely serious.
“During the electoral process itself, not only do they deploy enormous amounts of illegal money to interfere with outcome, they also intimidate voters and rival candidates. Thereafter, in our weak rule-of-law context, once they gain entry to our system of governance, they interfere with and influence the functioning of the government in favour of themselves”, the petition stated.
Upadhyay prayed that one of the conditions for the recognition of a political party should be that the party shall not set up a candidate with criminal antecedents to contest elections.
The Election Commission of India, during the hearing on January 24, had acknowledged that the directions issued by the Supreme Court in 2018 to give wide publicity to the criminal antecedents of candidates contesting elections failed to yield the desired result of decriminalising politics (with inputs from Hindustan Times).