The Election Commission drew flak from the Supreme Court's ire on Wednesday due to its silence on the critical issue of decriminalisation of politics — whether convicted MPs and MLAs should be barred from contesting elections for life?
The court also wondered whether the EC's reluctance to give its "free view" was influenced by the Centre's stand against life ban on convicts from contesting polls. A bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Naveen Sinha read out a portion of the EC's fresh affidavit that said it supported "the cause espoused by" petitioner Ashwini Upadhyay, who has sought setting up of special courts for speedy trial of criminal cases faced by elected representatives. He also said those convicted should be "uniformly barred from the legislature, the executive and the judiciary".
Finding the EC affidavit supporting the "cause espoused by petitioner", the bench asked EC counsel Mohit Ram whether the commission supported the plea that convicts should be barred for life from contesting elections. "We are supporting the cause of decriminalisation of politics. But we have not said anything on life ban," said Ram.
When the EC failed to give a definite answer, the bench said, "Can the EC afford to remain silent when a voter comes to the SC and says elected representatives, if convicted, should be debarred for life from contesting elections?"
The Centre in its affidavit had said the prayer seeking life ban on convicted politicians could not be granted by the court. At present, the Representation of the People Act bars a convict from contesting elections for six years after release from prison.
When Ram said the EC was not the competent authority to comment on the "life ban" issue, the bench said, "If you denude your power of independent thinking then say so. If EC feels constrained by the view of the executive to the extent of giving up its free view, by all means say so. Feel free." The SC scheduled further hearing for July 18.
Upadhyay attempted to rub it in by saying that 30% of lawmakers were alleged law breakers. The EC in its affidavit said it had submitted a detailed proposal to the government on electoral reforms covering the fields decriminalisation of politics, making offence of bribery cognisable, amendment in provisions concerning election expenditure, prohibition of advertisements in print media 48 hours before the close of elections and prohibition of paid news. Upadhyay had also requested the court to direct the Centre to fix minimum educational qualification and maximum age for candidates.