Directions on candidates declaring criminal background have failed: EC tell SC

New Delhi, January 24: The Election Commission told the Supreme Court Friday that the direction asking poll candidates to declare their criminal antecedents in the media has not helped curb criminalisation of politics, and said political parties should be asked not to give ticket to those with criminal background.

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Despite the apex court’s direction in 2018, the criminalisation of politics is going on and some alternate mechanism has to be found, the Election Commission (EC) said.

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 criminalisation of politics in nation’s interest.

It asked BJP leader and advocate-petitioner Ashiwini Upadhyay and the EC to sit together and come up with suggestions which would help curb criminalisation of politics.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the EC, said the poll panel has taken several steps to stop criminalisation of politics.

He also said that the directions given by apex court in 2018 have not succeeded and added that instead of these, accountability should be fixed by the court on the political parties that any candidate with criminal background should not be given tickets.

“Given the situation and current composition of Parliament, we can assume that a law will not be passed to prohibit criminalisation of politics and disqualify those charged with serious criminal offences,” Singh said.

Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for Upadhaya, said currently 46 per cent of parliamentarians have criminal antecedents and in this scenario it cannot be assumed that a law will be passed in this regard.

To this, the bench asked Upadhaya and the poll panel to suggest an effective mechanism to keep a check on criminalisation of politics.

“This should be done at the earliest in the public interest. This should not be treated as an adversarial litigation. Both of you sit together and give a joint framework as what could be done to stop criminalisation of politics,” the Bench said.

The Centre in its reply to the petition had sought dismissal of contempt petition filed by Upadhaya and said that on September 25, 2018, the apex court had not given any specific direction to enact a law.

On March 29, last year, the apex court had sought response from the Centre and the EC on Upadhaya’s plea seeking initiation of contempt proceedings for alleged violation of the apex court’s judgment directing all candidates to declare their criminal antecedents to the poll panel before contesting elections.

On October 10, 2018, the EC had issued notification regarding the amended Form-26 and directions to political parties and candidates for publication of criminal antecedents.

However, 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.

The EC neither published a list of leading newspapers-news channels for the purpose nor clarified the timing for declaration of criminal antecedents by candidates, it said.

This led to the candidates publishing the required information in newspapers and news channels that were not very popular and at odd hours, it added.

In September 2018, a 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 a wider publicity, through print and electronic media about antecedents of candidates.

It had left it to Parliament to “cure the malignancy” of criminalisation of politics by making a law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter the political arena as the “polluted stream of politics” needs to be cleansed.

Holding that criminalisation of politics is an “extremely disastrous and lamentable situation”, the apex court said this “unsettlingly increasing trend” in the country has the propensity to “send shivers down the spine of a constitutional democracy”.

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.

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