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Will you ban convicts from polls, asks SC:

GS Paper 2:

Topics Covered: Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

 

Context:

The Supreme Court has asked the Centre whether it was “willing” to favour a lifetime ban on contesting elections for people convicted of offences.

 

What’s the issue?

A petition has been filed in the court urging the need for a level playing field. He said if a convicted person cannot be a government clerk, the same rule should apply to a politician.

 

Centre’s response:

The Government, in an affidavit filed by the Law Ministry in the court in December 2020, had rejected the idea of a lifetime ban on convicted persons contesting elections or becoming an office-bearer of a political party.

Why is the Centre against the lifetime ban?

  • The Ministry had reasoned that MPs and MLAs were not bound by specific “service conditions”. They are bound by oath to serve citizens and country. They are bound by propriety, good conscience and interest of the nation.
  • The Supreme Court in Public Interest Foundation case of 2019 said “though criminalisation of politics is a bitter manifest truth, which is a termite to the citadel of democracy, be that as it may, the court cannot make the law”.
  • The government has maintained that disqualification under the Representation of the People Act of 1951 for the period of prison sentence and six years thereafter was enough for legislators.

 

Offences against MPs and MLAs- concerns:

States have a large number of criminal cases pending against former and sitting legislators. Uttar Pradesh may host the “largest”.

 

EC’s views:

The Election Commission of India (ECI), in 2017, had endorsed the call for a lifetime ban in the apex court.

  • It had argued that such a move would “champion the cause of decriminalisation of politics”.
  • The ECI had then agreed in the Supreme Court that a ban would be in the spirit of fundamental rights of the Constitution, including the right to equality.

 

Need of the hour:

There should not be any delay in complying with a Supreme Court decision to have high courts constitute Special Sessions and Magisterial Courts to quicken the pace of long-pending criminal cases against legislators across the country.

In a series of directions to make the right of information of a voter “more effective and meaningful”, the court has ordered:

  • The Election Commission of India launched a dedicated mobile app for voters to get details of the criminal history of the candidates at the touch of a button.
  • The Commission formed a separate cell to monitor political parties on their compliance with the court’s judgment.

 

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. Section 8 of the RP Act.
  2. SC guidelines in this regard.
  3. ECI- composition and functions.
  4. CEC- appointment.
  5. Powers of Election Commission on matters related to election of candidates.

Mains Link:

Discuss the concerns associated with criminalisation of politics and what the Supreme Court has done to address these concerns?

Sources: the Hindu.