Need to deal carefully with the issue of penalizing political parties and candidates for not disclosing criminal antecedents: SC
A bench of Justices R F Nariman and S Ravindra Bhat asked the poll panel to come up with a framework within one week which can help curb criminalization of politics in the nation’s interest. The Supreme Court Friday said the issue of penalizing political parties or candidates for not disclosing criminal antecedents has to be dealt with carefully as allegations of sedition and anti-national are often made with “political overtones”.
The apex court was dealing with a contempt plea which has raised the issue of criminalization of politics claiming that directions given by the top court in its September 25, 2018 verdict, relating to disclosure of criminal antecedents by candidates, were not being followed. The EC told the Supreme Court Friday that the direction asking poll candidates to declare their criminal antecedents in the media has not helped curb criminalization of politics, and said political parties should be asked not to give tickets to those with a criminal background.
On March 29 last year, the apex court had sought response from the Centre and EC on Upadhaya’s plea seeking initiation of contempt proceedings for alleged violation of its judgment directing all candidates to declare their criminal antecedents to the poll panel before contesting elections. On October 10, 2018, the EC had issued a notification regarding the amended Form-26 and directions to political parties and candidates for publication of criminal antecedents.
The plea filed by Upadhyay alleged that the EC neither amended the Election Symbol Order, 1968 nor the model code of conduct (MCC) so the said notification has no legal sanction. In September 2018, the five-judge Constitution bench had unanimously held that all candidates will have to declare their criminal antecedents to the EC before contesting polls and called for wider publicity, through print and electronic media about antecedents of candidates.
Despite the apex court’s direction in 2018, the criminalization of politics is going on and some alternate mechanism has to be found, the Election Commission (EC) said.
The Election Commission told the court that an increase in the number of MPs having pending criminal cases was “disturbing” and as per the statistics, there were 43 percent MPs in the current Parliament who have criminal cases against them.
The EC said it was not agreeable to the suggestion regarding penalizing the political party or its candidates under Article 324 of the Constitution for their failure to disclose criminal antecedents, as it does not have this power.
Sankaranarayanan told the bench that the Constitution bench judgment of September 2018 should be complied with and without penalty or sanction, the political parties or their candidates would not act accordingly as mandated by the top court.
The bench said that Now, charges with political overtones are brought in. It is easy to frame charges on this. It is very easy to frame charges in cases which may be filed by political opponent including sedition and anti-national. We have to be very careful. The bench, which had earlier asked the EC and petitioner to sit together and come up with suggestions, said it would pass an order in the matter.
The apex court had directed that each contesting candidate will have to fill-up the form provided by the ECI and he or she will have to state “in bold letters” about the criminal cases pending against the candidate. It said that 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 had said, adding that “the concerned political party shall be obligated to put up on its website the aforesaid information about candidates having criminal antecedents”.
The top court also directed that candidate and the concerned political party will have to issue a declaration in widely circulated newspapers in the locality and electronic media about his or her antecedents. The court strictly remarked that “When we say wide publicity, we mean that the same shall be done at least thrice after filing of the nomination papers.”
Edited by J. Madonna Jephi
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje