New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to bar those facing serious criminal cases from contesting elections, leaving it to the Parliament to enact a “strong law” before the “malignancy” of criminalisation of politics becomes “fatal” to democracy, adding that the “polluted stream of politics” needs to be cleansed. Also Read - Delhi-NCR Pollution News: SC Appoints Ex-judge Madan Lokur as One-man Panel to Monitor Stubble Burning
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, however, observed that the criminalisation of politics strikes at the very root of democracy by making the citizenry suffer at the hands of those “who are nothing but a liability” to the country. Also Read - 'Wife Entitled to Stay at Her in-Laws' House': Supreme Court Revises Rules Under Domestic Violence Act
“This unsettlingly increasing trend of criminalisation of politics, to which our country has been a witness, tends to disrupt the constitutional ethos and strikes at the very root of our democratic form of government by making our citizenry suffer at the hands of those who are nothing but a liability to our country,” the bench, which also comprised justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, said. Also Read - 'Common Man's Diwali in Your Hands': Supreme Court Tells Centre to Enforce Interest Waiver on Loans by Nov 2
It said it cannot “usurp the power” of law-making which is vested with the legislature, but was burdened with the duty of being the final arbiter of the Constitution and protector of the constitutional ethos.
Though criminalisation of politics is a “bitter manifest truth”, which is a “termite” to the citadel of democracy, the court cannot make a law to check it, it added.
The government welcomed the top court order but said that issues like politically motivated cases still needed to be considered.
Reacting to the apex court verdict leaving it to Parliament to bring in a law in this regard, a senir government functionary said that the government will study the order in detail and decide the next course of action.
He pointed out that several of the directions given by the top court have already been implemented, including filing of affidavits by candidates giving details of criminal cases against them.
The top court held that constitutional functionaries, who have taken pledge to uphold constitutional principles, were charged with the responsibility to ensure that the existing political framework does not get tainted with the “evil of corruption”.
In a 100-page unanimous verdict penned by the CJI, the apex court left it to Parliament to make a law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter the political stream.
It said the nation was “eagerly” waiting for such legislation as the society has legitimate expectation to be governed by proper constitutional governance and citizens in a democracy cannot be compelled to stand as “silent, deaf and mute spectators” to corruption by projecting themselves as helpless.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said malignancy of criminalisation of politics was “not incurable” but the issue was required to be dealt with soon before it becomes “fatal” to the democracy.
Passing a slew of directions aimed at de-criminalisation of politics, giving citizens an “informed choice” and infusing a culture of purity in politics, the bench said that increasing trend of criminalisation of politics tends to disrupt constitutional ethos and strikes at the very root of our democratic form of government.
“A time has come that the Parliament must make law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter into the political stream,” said the bench, which also comprised Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, in the unanimous 100-page verdict.
“We are sure, the law making wing of the democracy of this country will take it upon itself to cure the malignancy,” it said.
It also recommended that Parliament bring out a “strong law” whereby it would be mandatory for the political parties to revoke membership of persons against whom charges were framed in heinous and grievous offences and not to set up such persons in elections for Parliament as also State Assemblies.
The bench directed that each contesting candidate will have to fill up the form provided by the Election Commission of India and he or she will have to state “in bold letters” about the criminal cases pending against the candidate.
“If a candidate is contesting an election on the ticket of a particular party, he/she is required to inform the party about the criminal cases pending against him/her,” it said, adding that “the concerned political party shall be obligated to put up on its website the aforesaid information pertaining to candidates having criminal antecedents”.
The top court directed that candidate and the concerned political party will have to issue a declaration in widely circulated newspapers in the locality and in electronic media about his or her antecedents.
“When we say wide publicity, we mean that the same shall be done at least thrice after filing of the nomination papers,” it said.
The bench said that complete information about criminal antecedents of the candidates forms the “bedrock of wise decision-making and informed choice by the citizenry” as informed choice was the cornerstone to have a pure and strong democracy.
“The voters cry for systematic sustenance of constitutionalism. The country feels agonized when money and muscle power become the supreme power,” it said.
“Substantial efforts have to be undertaken to cleanse the polluted stream of politics by prohibiting people with criminal antecedents so that they do not even conceive of the idea of entering into politics. They should be kept at bay,” the bench said.
It was imperative that persons who enter public life and participate in law making should be above any kind of serious criminal allegation, the bench said.
The apex court also said that criminalisation of politics was never an “unknown phenomenon” in Indian political system but its presence was seemingly felt in its “strongest form” during the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts which was the result of a collaboration of a diffused network of criminal gangs, police and customs officials and their political patrons.
The bench also took note of the submissions of Attorney General K K Venugopal that the court should not cross the ‘lakshman rekha’ vis-a-vis the separation of powers and said it was well settled in law that the court cannot legislate.
The verdict by the Constitution bench was pronounced on a batch of pleas raising a question whether lawmakers facing criminal trial can be disqualified from contesting elections at the stage of framing of charges against them.
According to the prevalent law, the lawmakers and candidates are barred under the Representation of Peoples (RP) Act from contesting elections only after their conviction in a criminal case.
The Centre had contended that the judiciary should not venture into the legislative arena by creating a pre-condition which would adversely affect the right of the candidates to participate in polls as there was already the RP Act which deals with the issue of disqualification.
The Election Commission of India had taken a view which was apparently opposite to that of the Centre, and said the recommendations for decriminalising politics were made by the poll panel and the Law Commission way back in 1997 and 1998, but no action was taken on them.
The PILs were filed by NGO ‘Public Interest Foundation’, BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay and others.
(With PTI inputs)