The Supreme Court on Thursday directed political parties to upload on their respective websites and social media platforms the details of pending criminal cases against candidates contesting on their party symbols, the reasons for selecting them, and for not giving a ticket to those without criminal antecedents.
It said these details should be published within 48 hours of the selection of the candidate or at least two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations, whichever is earlier.
"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," said the Bench of Justices R F Nariman and S Ravindra Bhat.
The details should also be published on official social media platforms of the political parties, including Facebook and Twitter, and in one local vernacular and one national newspaper, the apex court directed.
"It appears that over the last four general elections, there has been an alarming increase in the incidence of criminals in politics," the Bench said referring to the data placed before it. "We have also noted that the political parties offer no explanation as to why candidates with pending criminal cases are selected as candidates in the first place."
If a political party fails to submit the compliance report of the directives with the Election Commission, the poll panel "shall bring such non-compliance" to the notice of the Supreme Court "as being in contempt of this Court's orders/ directions", the Bench said.
On Wednesday, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), an election watchdog, released its analysis that found 37 of the 70 of Delhi’s newly elected legislators, or more than 50 per cent, have declared serious criminal cases against themselves, which include attempt to murder. A total of 43 legislators elected in the polls earlier this month face criminal cases, of whom 37 have declared serious charges, the ADR study found.
According to existing election laws, only those convicted of their crimes are barred from contesting any elections for six years. However, senior advocate Prashant Bhushan termed the SC judgement an important one. The SC order could put additional social pressure on political parties to refrain from selecting candidates with criminal backgrounds.
The Congress criticised the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Karnataka over appointing a minister in Karnataka who is accused in mining cases, and alleged that the apex court directive has already been torn to shreds by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "Today itself, Modiji has torn to shreds the orders of giving reasons for giving tickets to leaders accused in cases," Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeted with a news report on Anand Singh, accused in mining and forest crimes, being appointed the new minister for forest, environment and ecology in Karnataka.
The BJP said the SC direction would strengthen electoral democracy. It also said the directions would enable voters to make a choice keeping "all factors" in mind when they cast their vote. BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said the orders of the top court have to be complied with.
The apex court delivered the verdict on a contempt plea which had raised issues regarding the criminalisation of politics in India and claimed that directions given by the top court in its September 2018 verdict relating to disclosure of criminal antecedents by candidates are not being followed.
The top court noted that 24 per cent of the MPs had criminal cases pending against them in 2004 while in 2009, it went to 30 per cent. Further, in 2014, 34 per cent of MPs had pending criminal cases against them, which increased to 43 per cent in 2019.
In September 2018, a five-judge Constitution Bench had unanimously held that all candidates will have to declare their criminal antecedents to the Election Commission before contesting polls and called for wider publicity, through print and electronic media about antecedents of candidates.
- 48 hours parties have to publish details of pending criminal cases against their candidates
- 73 hours to submit a report of compliance with the EC
- 43 of 70 newly elected Delhi MLAs face criminal charges
- 37 face serious criminal charges, including murder
- 43 per cent of MPs elected in 2019 are facing criminal cases