Taking into account the increasing degree of criminalization of politics, the Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday directed all political parties to upload details of pending criminal cases of candidates contesting polls on their websites.
The court also said that the parties would have to also upload on their website the reasons for selecting candidates with pending criminal cases against them. Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman delivered the judgement that stated, “The reasons as to selection shall be with reference to the qualifications, achievements and merit of the candidate concerned, and not mere “winnability” at the polls.”
The judgement pointed out that over the last four general elections, there had been an alarming increase in the incidence of criminals in politics. In 2004, 24% of the MPs had criminal cases pending against them; in 2009 the number went up to 30% and in 2019, 43% of MPs were found with criminal charges registered against them. The court also asked the political parties to offer an explanation as to why candidates with pending criminal cases were selected in the first place.
The SC order states that apart from putting up the information of criminal cases of candidates on websites, they have will have to issue a declaration in widely circulated newspapers (one local vernacular and one national newspaper) in the locality about the antecedents of the candidate (at least thrice after filing of the nomination papers) and also give wide publicity in the electronic media. The SC also asked the political parties to submit a report of compliance with these directions with the Election Commission (EC) within 72 hours of the selection of the said candidate, failing which the EC shall bring such non-compliance by the political party concerned to the notice of the SC as being in contempt of the Court’s directions.
Post the SC order, the EC said that it wholeheartedly welcomed the order and would make relevant modifications to implement the court’s directives. The EC in a press release said, “Election Commission whole-heartedly welcomes this landmark order, which is bound to go a long way in setting new moral yardsticks for overall betterment of electoral democracy.”
In order to help the voters make a more informed choice, the EC is working on a revamped affidavit that will have a separate category to list heinous cases like murder, rape, rioting, etc. against candidates, reported the Economic Times. An EC official told ET, “At present, all crimes are bunched in the affidavit, whether it may be a case that attracts a year’s imprisonment or seven. We feel that the gravity of the crime involved must be highlighted, as the Supreme Court also instructed. So we are working on a framework which will classify heinous crimes separately. This will give voters a more informed choice.”