Allegations against candidates may be political: SC

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday said it is essential to tread carefully while penalising candidates from political parties, who do not disclose criminal antecedents, as the allegations often have political overtones.

A bench, headed by Justice R.F. Nariman and comprising Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, said in politics, political opponents may file serious criminal cases, which includes cases connected with sedition and anti-national activities. “Charges with political overtones are brought in… we have to be very careful,” it said.

The observation from the apex court came during the hearing of a contempt plea which has raised the issue of criminalisation of politics. The plea has claimed directions given by the top court in its September 25, 2018 verdict, on the disclosure of criminal antecedents, were not being followed.

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Senior advocate Vikas Singh representing the Election Commission, contended before the court that the number of MPs having pending criminal cases has increased, which is actually very disturbing. According to the poll body data, 43 per cent MPs in the current Parliament have criminal cases against them.

The poll body has indicated it is in agreement with the BJP leader and petitioner Ashwini Upadhyay, that political parties should mandatorily upload on their website details of candidates with criminal antecedents. Also, these political parties should provide reasons for their selection. However, the poll body disagreed with the suggestion to penalise the party or candidate under Article 324 of the Constitution, as it is not in its jurisdiction.

Last week, the court had asked the EC and petitioner to sit together and frame suggestions on the issue. “The reasons shall have to be justifiable with reference to qualifications, achievements and merit of the candidate concerned and ”winnability” shall not be a sufficient justification,” the suggestion said.

The proposed suggestion also said the information should be published in one local vernacular newspaper and one national newspaper. “(Also) On the official social media platforms of the political party including Facebook and Twitter,” said the suggestion.

Upadhyay’s counsel insisted that they should be practical in such matters and referred to a section in the Representation of the People Act, 1951. According to the Act, a candidate in his nomination paper has to furnish details, whether he is accused of any offence punishable with jail term of two years or more in a pending case where charges have been framed. The poll body counsel contended though there is rise in the number of MPs with criminal record, but nobody is bothered.

Another suggestion emphasized that the political party shall submit a report to the Election Commission regarding the above publications within 24 hours of the nomination of the candidate.

In the previous hearing, the poll body insisted the political parties should be asked not to give tickets to people with criminal background.

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