Supreme Court orders political parties should publish details of candidates with criminal background

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court ordered that political parties should publish on party websites, social media and newspapers, details of candidates with criminal background who have been fielded to contest state assembly and general elections, in a move to bring more transparancy and accountability in the electoral process.

Such details have to be published within 48 hours of filing of nomination in one local newspaper and one national newspaper and on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, the court elaborated.

It further said that the parties will have to file a compliance report within 72 hours, adding that contempt charges will be pressed against the parties if they fail to follow this.

The details should explain the nature of the crime, whether charges have been framed, etc, a bench of justices Rohinton Nariman and S Ravindra Bhat ruled.

Reasons should also be furnished, the top court said, on why the concerned candidate is being fielded for election.

However, the ability of a candidate to win elections should not be the reason furnished for fielding a candidate, the apex court added.

The judgment was pronounced in contempt petitions which, among other things, pointed out that despite repeated directions by the Supreme Court, the government and election commission have failed to take steps for decriminalisation of politics.

The top court in its judgment delivered on September 25, 2018, had suggested enactment of a strong law to decriminalise politics.

The court had also issued directions to contesting candidates to disclose details of pending criminal cases against him/her in the form provided by the EC. It had also ordered political parties to publicise on their websites and in print and electronic media about the criminal antecedents of its candidates.

Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, one of the petitioners, submitted that pursuant to the judgment of the apex court, the EC issued directions to political parties and candidates to publish criminal antecedents. But the EC did not make the necessary amendments to the rules governing this field - election symbols order and model code of conduct - and hence the directions by the poll body did not have any legal sanction.

Further, the EC did not publish a list of leading newspapers and news channels wherein criminal antecedents of the contesting candidates had to be published. Upadhyay claimed that political parties took advantage of the same and published criminal antecedents in unpopular newspapers and news channels and at odd hours to evade scrutiny.

The plea also said that the consequences of permitting criminals to contest elections and become legislators are extremely serious.

“During the electoral process itself, not only do they deploy enormous amounts of illegal money to interfere with outcome, they also intimidate voters and rival candidates. Thereafter, in our weak rule-of-law context, once they gain entry to our system of governance, they interfere with and influence the functioning of the government in favour of themselves”, the petition stated.

Upadhyay prayed that one of the conditions for the recognition of a political party should be that the party shall not set up a candidate with criminal antecedents to contest elections.

 

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