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Regretting that that its proposals for electoral reforms and decriminalisation of politics remain pending before the government, the Election Commission has supported in Supreme Court a demand to bar convicted politicians for life from contesting polls. The EC, in its short affidavit submitted before the court, has said that the plea made by PIL petitioner Ashwini Upadhyay is “not adversarial” in seeking directives for ensuring that trials of MPs and MLAs are concluded within a year and that such convicts are prohibited for life from the political process. “…the answering respondent (EC) supports the cause espoused by the petitioner,” stated the affidavit, filed by EC Director Vijay Kumar Pandey.
The matter is likely to be listed for hearing next on Friday. The existing legal regime under the Representation of the People Act lays down that a politician convicted and sentenced to a jail term of two years or more shall be disqualified from contesting polls for six years from the date of his release from prison after conclusion of the term.
The poll panel has said it is “alive to the issues that concern the conduct of free and fair elections and functioning of healthy democracy and as such asserting for bringing in electoral reforms which further the cause of free and fair elections.”
In this regard, the EC added, it has already submitted detailed proposals for electoral reforms, which include decriminalisation of politics, making the offence of bribery a cognizable offence, prohibiting advertisements during 48 hours before the polls and prohibition of paid news.
“It is pertinent to mention that most of the recommendations/proposals of the answering respondent (EC) has been endorsed by the Law Commission in its 244th and 255th reports. However, most of the reforms are either pending considerations by the Union of India or have not been approved for the time being,” read the affidavit.
On the plea for fixing the maximum age criteria and minimum educational qualification, the poll panel said the issue is in legislative domain and would require amendment into the Constitution.
Upadhyay, a lawyer and a Delhi BJP spokesperson, has contended that letting politicians fight polls again was violative of the right to equality under Article 14. He pointed out in the executive and judiciary, when a person is convicted for any criminal offence, he is suspended automatically and debarred from his services for life.
“However, this rule is applied differently in case of convicted person in a legislature. Even after conviction and undergoing sentence, a convicted person can form his own political party and is eligible to become the office bearer of any political party. In addition, a convicted person is eligible to contest the election and eligible to become Member of Legislature and even Minister after expiry of six year period from the date of conviction,” stated the PIL.