From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : NA
Mains level : Decriminalization of Politics
The Supreme Court has said that it would consider a plea seeking a lifetime ban on people convicted of offenses from contesting elections and becoming MPs and MLAs.
Why such petition?
- The petition has made a very logical argument that even a constable can lose his job after conviction for corruption.
- The Centre maintained affirmation on the existing (namesake) bar of disqualification was enough for legislators.
- The disqualification under the Representation of the People Act of 1951 is the period of prison sentence and six years thereafter.
What did the Centre argue against lifetime ban?
- In 2017, the ECI endorsed the call for a life ban in the top court. This was a boost for the cause of decriminalisation of politics.
- In Dec 2020, the Centre rejected the idea of a lifetime ban on convicted persons contesting elections or forming or becoming an office-bearer of a political party.
- It had reasoned that MPs and MLAs were not bound by specific “service conditions”.
- They are bound by their oath to serve citizens and country along with propriety, good conscience and interest of the nation.
Criminalization of politics: Indian Case
- The criminalization of politics has become a headache for the Indian democracy and it is a harsh reality now.
- Criminalization of politics in India includes political control of the police, state money, corruption, weak laws, lack of ethics, values, vote bank politics and loopholes in the function of the election commission.
- Deep down, it’s a large nexus of police, money, corrupt bureaucracy, casteism, religion and the drawbacks of functioning in the election commission.
Why are tainted candidates inducted by political parties?
- Innocent until proven guilty maxim: The other reason offered by political parties is summarised by the maxim of Indian law, which is that any accused is innocent until proven guilty.
- Popularity: Such candidates with serious records seem to do well despite their public image, largely due to their ability to finance their own elections and bring substantive resources to their respective parties.
- Prospected victory: The logic of a candidate with criminal charges doing better for the cause of people of is another flawed argument.
- Destabilizing other electors: Others do not seek to punish these candidates in instances where they are in contest with other candidates with similar records.
- Vested interests: Some voters tend to view such candidates through a narrow prism: of being able to represent their interests by hook or by crook.
A harsh reality of Political Asylum
- The NN Vohra committee’s report on the criminalization of politics discussed how criminal gangs flourish under the care and protection of politicians.
- Many times the candidates themselves are the gang leaders.
- This protection is paid back to them during elections through capital investment in election spending and voter support.
Issues with Criminals in Politics
- Morality of the process: It is extremely important that the people who enter the field of politics have a clear image and high moral character.
- No rule of law: A leader with criminal character undoubtedly tends to undermine the rule of law.
- Violation of right to equality: There were 4.78 lakh prisoners (as of December 2019) of whom 3.30 lakh were under trial, i.e. not yet proven guilty.
- Problem of undertrial: An “innocent” undertrial cannot vote, but a man chargesheeted for murder can even contest election from jail.
Supreme Courts guidelines in this regard
The Supreme Court earlier in Feb 2020 had ordered political parties to publish the entire criminal history of their candidates for Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
- Reasons for nomination: It has also asked for the reasons that goaded them to field suspected criminals over decent people.
- Publication of records: The information should be published in a local as well as a national newspaper as well as the parties’ social media handles.
- 48hr time frame: It should mandatorily be published either within 48 hours of the selection of candidates or less than two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations, whichever is earlier.
- Contempt for non-compliance: It also ordered political parties to submit compliance reports with the Election Commission of India within 72 hours or risk contempt of court action.
- No escape: The judgment is applicable to parties both at Central and State levels.
Immediate Reason for Judicial Action
- The immediate provocation is the finding that 46% of MPs have criminal records.
- The number might be inflated as many politicians tend to be charged with relatively minor offences —“unlawful assembly” and “defamation”.
- The real worry is that the current cohort of Lok Sabha MPs has the highest (29%) proportion of those with serious declared criminal cases compared to its recent predecessors.
(1) ECI suggestion on vendetta politics
The ECI has suggested some safeguards against vendetta politics.
- First, only offences that carry an imprisonment of at least 5 years are to be considered.
- The case against the candidate should have been filed at least six months before the scheduled elections for it to be considered.
- And finally, a competent court must have framed the charges.
(2) Speedy trials
- An alternative solution would be to try cases against political candidates in fast-track courts.
- The SC had sent a directive in 2014, directing that cases against political candidates must be completed within a year, failing which the matter should be reported to the CJs.
(3) Legislative reforms
- We must have a law which debars persons with serious criminal cases from entering the assemblies and the Parliament.
- There must be stringent criteria in Representation of Peoples Act as well.
(4) Revamping Criminal Justice System
- The criminal justice system must be revamped as recommended by the Malimath Committee.
- An institution comprising representatives of the police/CBI/NIA, IB, IT department, Revenue Intelligence and Enforcement Directorate should be set up to monitor the activities of the mafia and criminal syndicates in the country.