The Election Commission (EC) has proposed disqualification of sitting MPs and MLAs chargesheeted for the offence of bribery or undue influence in polls under Sections 171B and 171C of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The poll panel is learnt to have written a letter to the secretary, ministry of law and justice, on January 2, seeking an amendment to Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act 1951 to include disqualification on framing of charges for bribery.
Currently, Section 8 enlists several offences, including poll graft, for which a legislator can be removed and barred from contesting polls for six years only if convicted. Such a disqualification will operate until an acquittal by the trial court or for six years, whichever is earlier.
The Law Commission, which felt the above provision was incapable of curbing the growing criminalisation of politics owing to long delays in trials and rare convictions, had recommended that disqualification should kick in even if a court frames charges for offences punishable by a jail term of five years.
But the EC wants the government to bring bribery and undue influence in elections, under Sections 171B and 171C of IPC, under the ambit of the Law Commission’s proposal even though the maximum punishment for it is imprisonment of up to one year only. “The proposal is based on the premise that bribery of electors is a serious offence, which needs to be dealt with firmly,” EC’s letter states.
The poll watchdog’s proposal is the latest in a series of demands made by it from the government to deal with rising incidents of graft in elections in recent years.
The EC, under the incumbent Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi, has already sought an amendment to Section 58A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which empowers it to adjourn or cancel elections in case of booth capturing.
The EC wants the insertion of a new section, 58B, to enable it to take similar action if voters of a constituency are bribed by political parties. The demand, however, has been rejected thrice by the law ministry.
Similarly, the EC has been reiterating its long-standing demand to make electoral bribery a cognizable offence under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). A cognizable offence is one for which the police has the authority to make an arrest without a warrant. The Home Ministry is learnt to have accepted this and is currently working on a CrPC amendment Bill.
In a recent case, the EC on April 9 had cancelled the R K Nagar bypoll in Chennai in the wake of allegations of voters being bribed. The bypoll, necessitated by the death of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa, was to take place on April 12.
The EC had invoked its special powers under Article 324 of the Constitution to take the decision, a day after the Income Tax Department alleged that the V K Sasikala camp, which was fighting the bypoll under the name AIADMK (Amma), had paid close to Rs 90 crore to voters to buy support for its candidate T T V Dinakaran.