A lawyer, who has filed a PIL in the Supreme Court seeking that convicts be restrained from forming and holding posts in political parties during the period of their disqualification, has told the court that the Centre has failed to strengthen the law regarding registration and de-registration of the parties, despite efforts by the Election Commission (EC) and the Law Commission. The submissions were made in a rejoinder affidavit filed by lawyer and BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay, in response to the Centre’s affidavit filed on March 21.
The Centre had, in its affidavit, said the appointment of an office-bearer to a political party was a matter of its autonomy and that it might not be apt to restrain the EC from registering a party only because one of its functionaries was disqualified from contesting elections. Upadhyay, in his rejoinder, said corruption had been an area of concern for four decades and the government had failed to act on the proposal put forward by the EC, in its letters to the law minister and the prime minister sent between 1998 and 2016.
“It is submitted that the government has failed to act on the proposal made in the letter of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), dated July 15, 1998 and addressed to the law minister, about strengthening the existing provisions regarding registration and de-registration of political parties,” he said. “Corruption/criminalisation has been an area of concern for the last four decades, leading to India plummeting in the annual international ranking released by Transparency International. Many recommendations have come from various high-powered committees and commissions, constituted to advise the government on the issue of electoral and political parties’ reforms,” the rejoinder said.
It also referred to the Law Commission’s suggestions — debarring of a candidate from contesting elections if a competent court, in respect to offences punishable by imprisonment of five years or more, has framed charges against him and disqualifying a candidate for filing a false affidavit. “In addition, the Law Commission has suggested several changes to curb corruption/criminalisation as they hinder and stifle the developmental agenda being undertaken and the evils sponsored through this become omnipotent and tarnish the foundation of a democratic system. However, the executive has not taken apt steps to implement the Law Commission and the ECI’s recommendation till date,” the rejoinder said.
It added that reforming the electoral system for upholding the highest traditions of probity and morality in public life must be done. Upadhyay had earlier claimed that in 2004, the EC had proposed to amend section 29A of the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1951, authorising it to issue apt orders, regulating the registration or de-registration of political parties. The apex court had, on March 26, asked how convicted persons, who are barred from electoral politics, could decide on candidates for polls and ensure the maintenance of probity in public life. The apex court had posted the matter to May 3 for final disposal.
The top court had, on December 1 last year, sought the response of the Centre and the EC on the PIL and agreed to examine the constitutional validity of section 29A, RPA, which deals with the power of the poll panel to register a political party. The PIL said convicted politicians, who are barred from contesting polls, could still run political parties and hold posts, besides deciding as to who could become a lawmaker. It sought a direction to declare section 29A, RPA as “arbitrary, irrational and ultra-vires” to the Constitution and to authorise the poll panel to register and de-register political parties.
The petitioner also sought a direction to the EC for framing guidelines to de-criminalise the electoral system and ensure inner-party democracy, as proposed by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC). The petition said currently, even a person convicted of a heinous crime like murder, rape, smuggling, money laundering, loot, sedition or dacoity, could form a political party and become its president or office-bearer.
The petition named several top political leaders, who have been convicted or have charges framed against them and are holding top political posts and “wielding political power”.