New Delhi: The Election Commission has told the Supreme Court that it has made recommendations and also taken steps actively for decriminalisation of politics, however any further steps would need legislative amendments to be effective.
In an affidavit, citing its “Proposed Electoral Reforms, 2016”, the EC said it had reiterated its 2004 recommendation that persons charged with cognisable offences, which are punishable with imprisonment of at least five years, where charges have been framed and where the cases have been filed at least six months prior to the election, should be debarred from contesting elections.
On Monday, a bench of Justices K.M. Joseph and B.V. Nagarathna gave the Centre four weeks’ time to file a response on a plea seeking ban from contesting polls for persons against whom charges have been framed in serious offences like rape, murder kidnapping, extortion, bribery money laundering, and disproportionate assets etc.
The EC, in its affidavit, said it has been raising the issue of criminalisation of politics since 1998. “In fact, the Election Commission of India sent a proposal to the government of India for De-criminalisation of politics on July 15, 1998, which proposals were thereafter reiterated in its Proposed Electoral Reforms, published in July 2004 and December 2016 respectively,” it said.
The poll panel’s response came on a PIL filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, raising concerns about an increase in the number of candidates who declared criminal cases against them. The petitioner contended that out of 539 winners of 17th Lok Sabha, 233 (43 per cent) declared criminal cases against themselves and after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 185 (34 per cent) winners had declared criminal cases.
In February this year, the top court gave Centre final opportunity to file its reply on the plea. The top court had observed that it is an important matter as the common man is affected by corruption.
The plea also sought a direction to the poll panel to use its plenary power conferred under Article 324, to amend the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order 1968, to insert such a restriction for the contestants.
In its 244th report, the Law Commission had favoured for debarring candidates with criminal antecedents with an additional condition that charges should have been framed at least one year before the scrutiny of nominations.