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Criminalisation of Politics

  • IASbaba
  • February 15, 2020
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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Governance

Topic: General Studies 2:

  • Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies
  • Elections: Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

Criminalisation of Politics

Context

A two Judge Bench of Supreme Court delivered a Judgment on the contempt petitions regarding non-compliance of the directions of a Constitution Bench of SC in Public Interest Foundation and Ors. v. Union of India, 2018

The 2018 Judgement had given the following pronouncements

  • There is lack of information about rising criminalisation of Politics among the citizenry
  • Rapid Criminalisation of Politics cannot be arrested by merely disqualifying tainted legislators but should begin by cleansing Political Parties
  • Ordered Political Parties to publish the criminal details of their candidates in their respective websites and print as well as electronic media for public awareness.

Increase in the incidence of criminals in politics

Year Percentage of MPs with Criminal Cases pending against them
2004 24%
2009 30%
2014 34%
2019 43%

The Court in its present judgement issued the following directions in exercise of its constitutional powers under Articles 129 and 142: 

  1. It shall be mandatory for political parties [at the Central and State election level] to upload on their website detailed information regarding individuals with pending criminal cases, who have been selected as candidates. They also have to mention reasons for such selection over people with clean background
  2. The reasons as to selection of candidates shall be with reference to the qualifications, achievements and merit of the candidate concerned, and not mere “winnability” at the polls
  3. This information shall also be published in newspaper (one local & one national) and on the official social media platforms of the political party, including Facebook & Twitter.
  4. These details shall be published within 48 hours of the selection of the candidate or not less than two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations, whichever is earlier.
  5. The political party concerned shall then submit a report of compliance with these directions with the Election Commission within 72 hours of the selection of the said candidate.
  6. Non-compliance of these directions shall be brought to notice of SC by Election Commission on the grounds of Contempt of Court

Merits of the Judgement

  • It is in line with a series of judgments aimed at preserving the purity of the election process: Asset disclosure, NOTA option, Special courts for quick disposal of cases involving elected representatives
  • It increases the information available for Citizens which enables him to take informed choice while choosing his representative.
  • Helps bring structural changes in electoral system which are long-term in nature

Criticism of the Judgement

  • Judicial Overreach: An election is an issue to be decided between parties, candidates and the voters. The courts should have no say in the matter, except in particular cases where the Representation of the People Act is violated
  • Threatens autonomy of Election System: By making them enforceable under Article 142 of the Constitution – failure to produce demanded documents risks attracting Contempt of Court – SC threatens to undermine the autonomy of the system of elections and elected legislature.
  • Infringe on ECI: Candidates are already required to file their details in affidavits with the Election Commission. This order could infringe upon the role of the poll watchdog.
  • Selection of candidates is subjective matter: The suitability of candidates is a subjective matter, and the justification required by the SC can only be an opinion, and not an objective fact, making the court’s order effectively unenforceable. 

Conclusion

SC is in danger of overstepping limits and boundaries, rather it should be limiting itself to exerting moral force on political parties. De-criminalisation of politics cannot be achieved by judicial fiat alone, rather there has to be changes from within the Political parties.

Connecting the dots!

  • Internal Democracy of the Political Parties
  • Decline in the institution of Parliament

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