Supreme Court directs political parties to justify selection of candidates with criminal records
New Delhi: In a scathing judgement on Thursday, the Supreme Court of India seriously rebuked political parties in the country for failing to comply with earlier orders with respect to the increasing criminalisation of politics. A two-judge bench comprising Justices R F Nariman and S R Bhat took note of the issue and ordered all political parties at the national and state levels to make sure they declare the detailed criminal record of their candidates along with the justification for why they have been fielded to represent the electorate.
The top court expressed concern over the number of elected representatives with a criminal record, which it said has only increased in the last four general elections. The Supreme Court noted that in 2004, 24 per cent of MPs had criminal cases pending against them which increased to 30 per cent in 2009, 34 per cent in 2014 and a sharp rise to 43 per cent in 2019.
The order makes it mandatory for all political parties to upload detailed information pertaining to individuals with pending criminal cases, who have been selected as candidates along with why they were selected and "why other individuals without criminal antecedents could not be selected as candidates". The judgement also makes it clear that if political parties do not comply with its fresh directions and submit a report to that effect to the ECI, the poll regulatory body shall bring it to the top court's notice as being in contempt of its orders.
Interestingly, while asking the parties to justify the selection of a candidate with a criminal record, the court specifically ordered that mere "winnability" of a candidate cannot be listed a justifiable reason for selecting such a candidate to contest elections. It said that the reasons for such a selection should be based on their qualifications, achievements and merit instead.
Justices Narima and Bhat also ordered that this information must be published in one local vernacular newspaper and one national newspaper in addition to putting it up on the social media platforms of the concerned political party, including Facebook and Twitter.
In an earlier order, the Apex court had directed that in addition to candidates having to declare their detailed criminal antecedents to the Election Commission of India, they must also declare such information to their respective political parties that in turn must put this information on its website, take out advertisements in widely circulated local newspapers and publish it on electronic media as well. The court had specified that "wide-circulation" meant publishing this information "at least thrice after filing of the nomination papers".
As for the time limit, the court said that this information must be published "within 48 hours of the selection of the candidate or not less than two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations, whichever is earlier". The court added that political parties must submit a "compliance report" to the ECI, outlining that they had followed these directions of the SC within 72 hours of the selection of the candidate, failing which the ECI could bring contempt charges against the concerned party in the Supreme Court.
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