Electoral Reforms In India

Is Transparency lacking in Candidate Disclosure?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Representation of the People Act, 1951;

Mains level: Election Issues; Judiciary; 244th Report of Law Commission; Accountability

Why in the news? 

The Supreme Court held that candidates need not to disclose every piece of Information and Possession in their Election Affidavit unless it is Substantial in Nature.

What are the Legal Provisions?

  • Nomination paper with Affidavit: Section 33 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (RP Act) read with rule 4A of election rules, requires every contesting candidate to file their nomination paper for elections along with an Affidavit in a ‘prescribed format’.
  • Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) Vs Union of India (2002): The Supreme Court held that voters have the right to know about the criminal antecedents, income and asset details of the candidate and his/her dependants and educational qualification of contesting candidates.
    • This judgement resulted in Section 33A being added to the RP Act that requires details of criminal antecedents to be part of the election affidavit.
  • Punishable Offence: Section 125A of the RP Act further provides that failure to furnish required information, giving false information or concealing any information in the nomination paper or affidavit shall be punishable with imprisonment up to six months or fine or both.

Present Dilemma of Accountability:

  • Candidates with Criminal Charges: The significant issue of candidates with serious criminal charges contesting elections raises questions about the integrity and suitability of such candidates for public office.
    • According to a report by ADR, 19% of candidates in the 2019 Lok Sabha election faced charges of rape, murder or kidnapping.
  • Circumvention of Disclosure Requirements: Some candidates attempted to circumvent disclosure requirements by leaving certain columns blank and filing incomplete affidavits, indicating loopholes in the electoral process.

Recommendations by Election Commission and Law Commission in its 244th report:

  • A conviction for filing a false affidavit should attract a punishment of a minimum of 2 years imprisonment and be a ground for disqualification.
  • The Trials in such cases must be conducted on a day-to-day basis.
  • Persons charged by a competent court with offences punishable by imprisonment of at least 5 years should be debarred from contesting in the elections provided the case is filed at least 6 months before the election in question.

Supreme Court’s Judgement to resolve this issues: 

  • In Public Interest Foundation Vs Union of India (2018) directed candidates as well as political parties to issue a declaration about criminal antecedents, at least three times before the election, in a newspaper in the locality and electronic media.

Way Forward:

  • Debarring from contesting elections : Debarring chargesheeted candidates from contesting elections is likely to be misused by various ruling parties.
  • Increasing Punishment for False Affidavits: Increasing punishment for filing false affidavits and making it a ground for disqualification need to be implemented.
  • Strict Implementation of SC order:The Supreme Court’s order to provide wide publicity of criminal records should also be strictly implemented.

Conclusion: Addressing challenges in candidate disclosure, enhancing electoral integrity can be achieved through measures such as imposing stricter penalties for false affidavits, enforcing disclosure laws rigorously, and ensuring widespread dissemination of candidates’ criminal records.

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