SC suggests way to cleanse political parties

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Context:

  • The Supreme Court proposed to make political parties accountable for criminalising politics by welcoming in “crooks” who may later win elections on party ticket and grab power.

About the constitution bench;

  • The five-judge Constitution Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, suggested it could direct the Election Commission to insist that parties get new members to declare in an affidavit their criminal antecedents and publish them so that the entire country knows how many criminals there are in a party.
  • The court said the EC could de-register a party or withdraw its symbol if it refused to comply.
  • The suggestion was made by the Bench in a bid to prevent criminals from entering politics or later contesting elections to become parliamentarians, legislators and Ministers.
  • The court is hearing a batch of petitions to ban persons charged with heinous criminal charges from contesting elections.
  • The suggestion from the Bench faced stiff opposition from the government. Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal said the court’s proposal amounted to disqualifying a prospective candidate.
  • The Bench has been steadfast during the past days that it cannot legislate and change the written law.
  • Thus, it was as an alternative measure that the Bench suggested: making the political party accountable for giving memberships to persons with a criminal record.
  • Each political party may incorporate a clause in their membership form requiring a member to file an affidavit disclosing his criminal antecedents.
  • If not, they will face deregistration by the Election Commission.
  • The Bench, including Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, A.M. Khanwilkar and Indu Malhotra, based its proposal on the power of the Election Commission to conduct an election and register/de-register political parties under Article 324 of the Constitution and Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act of 1951, respectively.
  • The court invoked The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order of 1968.
  • Chief Justice Misra pointed to how Section 29A requires a party to swear to uphold the principles of socialism, secularism, democracy, sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.

Suggested measure to curb criminalization of politics:

  • Bringing greater transparency in campaign financing is going to make it less attractive for political parties to involve gangsters.
  • The Election Commission of India (ECI) should have the power to audit the financial accounts of political parties, or political parties’ finances should be brought under the right to information (RTI) law.
  • Broader governance will have to improve for voters to reduce the reliance on criminal politicians.
  • Fast-track courts are necessary because politicians are able to delay the judicial process and serve for decades before prosecution.
  • The Election Commission must take adequate measures to break the nexus between the criminals and the politicians.
  • The forms prescribed by the Election Commission for candidates disclosing their convictions, cases pending in courts and so on in their nomination papers is a step in the right direction if it applied properly.

Source:TH