The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the Centre and Election Commission on a Public Interest Litigation that sought a ban on convicted persons from forming political parties or becoming office-bearer of a party.
A bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud decided to examine if the Election Commission was empowered under Section 29A of the Representation of Peop’e’s Act, 1951 to derecognise a political party so formed or to disqualify the person. Section 29A deals with registration of political parties.
The petition was filed by Delhi BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, who referred to the instances of leaders like Lalu Prasad, Om Prakash Chautala and Sasikala heading political formations even after their conviction in criminal cases.
Appearing for him, Senior Counsel Sidharth Luthra and Sajan Poovayya urged the court “that there are certain provisions under the 1951 Act which disqualify people from contesting the election and, therefore, the people who are disqualified, especially who have been convicted under the criminal law and stand disqualified, should not be allowed to take the benefit of Section 29A of the 1951 Act”.
Luthra referred to a 2002 judgment of the apex court in Indian National Congress (I) vs Institute of Social Welfare & others, which spoke about “three exceptions” in which the Election Commission can review its order on registering a political party.
Emphasising this, he submitted “that it is a duty of the Election Commission to exercise a quasi-judicial power, and if the Election Commission is not clothed with the power of not granting the benefit under Section 29A of the 1951 Act, the disqualified persons may form a political party and come for registration”.
The petition contended that “by virtue of sections 8, 8A, 9, 9A, 10 and 11 of the Act of 1951, it has already been held that candidates convicted under criminal laws are disqualified from contesting elections with immediate effect. Then there is the matter regarding doing away with the limited period of the disqualification and extending it for the lifetime of the convict. Section 29 A is in total conflict with this objective to decriminalise politics in so far as it does not debar such convicts from making, operating and running a political party.”
The plea also urged the court to declare unconstitutional Section 29A and to authorise the ECI to de-register political parties taking in account the reports by the Goswami Committee on electoral reform.
It contended that only 20 per cent of registered political parties contest elections and the remaining only create excessive load on the electoral system.