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Friday, September 17, 2021

Criminalisation of politics: Top court gives wake-up call to lawmakers

A bench of Justices R F Nariman and B R Gavai said this as it found nine political parties – Congress, BJP, JD(U), RJD, LJP, CPI(M), CPI, RLSP and NCP – guilty of contempt for not following in letter and spirit its February 13, 2020 direction to publish details of criminal cases against candidates fielded in Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.

Written by Ananthakrishnan G | New Delhi |
Updated: August 11, 2021 5:06:51 am
The bench, however, accepted the explanation given by the BSP on what had transpired with its two candidates.

STATING THAT criminalisation in politics is growing by the day, Supreme Court on Tuesday said that its appeals to lawmakers to come up with necessary legal provisions to fight this “have fallen on deaf ears”. It called upon the lawmakers to “wake up soon” and do the needful to check the menace.

A bench of Justices R F Nariman and B R Gavai said this as it found nine political parties – Congress, BJP, JD(U), RJD, LJP, CPI(M), CPI, RLSP and NCP – guilty of contempt for not following in letter and spirit its February 13, 2020 direction to publish details of criminal cases against candidates fielded in Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.

The bench, however, accepted the explanation given by the BSP on what had transpired with its two candidates.

The judgment came on a plea filed by Advocate Brajesh Singh, which sought contempt of court proceedings against leaders of the political parties as well as the Chief Election Commissioner for allegedly flouting the court’s orders in the run-up to the 2020 Bihar assembly elections.

Though it found the nine parties guilty, the court said it has decided to take a “lenient view of the matter”, as it was the first elections conducted after issuance of its directions.

“However, we warn them that they should be cautious in future and ensure that the directions issued by this court as well as the ECI [Election Commission of India] are followed in letter and spirit,” the bench said, as it asked the Congress, BJP, JD(U), RJD, LJP, CPI and RLSP to deposit Rs 1 lakh each in an account created by the ECI within eight weeks.

As regards CPI(M) and NCP, it asked them to deposit Rs 5 lakh each in the account “since they have not at all complied with the directions issued by this court”.

The court found no substance in the demand for initiating contempt action against the ECI. Accepting the poll panel’s counsel Senior Advocate Vikas Singh’s submission, the court said it “clearly shows that the ECI did bring to our notice the flouting of our directions contained in the said order”. “We must, however, caution the ECI to do so as promptly as possible in future so that prompt action may be taken by this court…,” the bench said.

On the legislature not responding to its appeals to make laws to check criminalisation in politics, the bench said, “No one can deny that the menace of criminalisation in the Indian political system is growing day by day. Also, no one can deny that for maintaining purity of political system, persons with criminal antecedents and who are involved in criminalisation of political system should not be permitted to be lawmakers. The only question is, whether this court can do so by issuing directions, which do not have foundation in the statutory provisions.”

The judgment said the court, “time and again, has appealed to the lawmakers of the country to rise to the occasion and take steps for bringing out necessary amendments so that the involvement of persons with criminal antecedents in polity is prohibited” but “all these appeals have fallen on deaf ears”.

“The political parties refuse to wake up from deep slumber,” it said. “However, in view of the constitutional scheme of separation of powers, though we desire that something urgently requires to be done in the matter, our hands are tied and we cannot transgress into the area reserved for the legislative arm of the State. We can only appeal to the conscience of the lawmakers and hope that they will wake up soon and carry out a major surgery for weeding out the malignancy of criminalisation in politics.”

The court recalled its earlier directions and observations intended to check criminalistion of politics and said, “The nation continues to wait, and is losing patience. Cleansing the polluted stream of politics is obviously not one of the immediate pressing concerns of the legislative branch of government.”

The bench rejected the suggestion by Senior Advocate K V Viswanathan, who assisted it as amicus curiae in the matter, that it should direct the ECI to invoke powers under Clause 16-A of the Symbols Order and take action to suspend or withdraw recognition of political parties that fail to comply with its directions on publishing details of candidates. The court said this would amount to it entering the legislative arena.

The February 2020 order required political parties to publish details of criminal cases against its candidates on their websites besides a local vernacular newspaper and a national newspaper and social media accounts within 48 hours of candidate selection or not less than two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations, whichever is earlier. In its Tuesday order, the court modified this and said the details “shall be published within 48 hours of the selection of the candidate” as the latter is difficult to follow given statutory provisions.

The court also directed political parties to have a caption “candidates with criminal antecedents candidates” on their homepages. It asked ECI “to create a dedicated mobile application containing information published by candidates regarding their criminal antecedents” so that votes can get all the inforamtion in one stroke and to carry awareness campaigns for voters.

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