The Election Commission’s proposal to have the Representation of People Act (RPA) amended to disqualify legislators charge-sheeted for bribing voters is well-intentioned but bad in principle. It attempts to turn the dictum of any justice system — that a person is innocent until proven guilty — on its head. The EC has drawn its recommendation from a proposal the Law Commission mooted in 2014. The Commission had called for including a new section in the RPA to expand the ambit of the disqualification provision to include a person against whom “a charge has been framed by a competent court for an offence punishable by at least five years imprisonment” for a period of six years or “till the date of quashing of charge or acquittal, whichever is earlier”. The call for such a drastic measure evidently stems from the failure to curb corruption in elections. Indeed, democracy needs to be cleansed of electoral malpractices, but that must be done by the patient labour of improving processes and reforming institutions.
In the past one year, the EC has countermanded three assembly elections in Tamil Nadu — in the R.K. Nagar seat most recently — after it found evidence that voters were being offered bribes by candidates. In the Aruvakurichi and Thanjavur seats, where the EC rescinded elections in 2016 after finding evidence of cash distribution by candidates, the parties renominated the same persons. The RPA, indeed, has a provision to disqualify and bar a legislator if convicted for poll graft. The keyword here, however, is conviction. It is said that the RPA provisions have failed to act as a deterrent against electoral malpractices since trials extend for years and rarely result in convictions. The way out is to reform the judicial process and ensure early and time-bound trial and closure in cases. Surely, there must be effective deterrence to prevent the subversion of due process, but the onus for ensuring that must to be on institutions.
The EC has also sought to make bribery a cognisable offence under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which would bestow on the police the authority to arrest an accused without a warrant. These are draconian measures, which violate the principles of natural justice. The EC had used provisions of the existing legal framework in the past to end violent acts like booth capturing. It is surely capable of inventive, but fair, methods to curtail the use of money in elections.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines