The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to disqualify candidates against whom cognisance of chargesheet have been taken by courts, saying no further disqualification under the law could be added but urged Parliament to enact a law to address the malaise of criminals entering legislatures.
At the same time, the apex Court directed political parties to post on their websites and widely publicise in the media, both print and electronic, full details of the criminal charges against the candidates they would be fielding in elections.
Pronouncing the judgment, a five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra also said that the law on criminals entering politics should also address fake cases being instituted against political opponents.
Speaking for the bench, Chief Justice Misra said: “An essential component of a constitutional democracy is its ability to give and secure for its citizenry a representative form of government, elected freely and fairly, and comprising a polity whose members are men and women of high integrity and morality. This could be said to be the hallmark of any free and fair democracy.”
The court said that the time had come for Parliament to enact a law to “cleanse the polluted stream of politics” by prohibiting people with criminal antecedents in the political system. “The nation eagerly waits for such legislation … and the sooner the better, before it becomes fatal to democracy,” the court added.
Noting that the constitutional functionaries are expected to ensure that the existing political framework does not get tainted with the evil of corruption, the court said that despite the “heavy mandate of the Constitution, our democracy, has seen a steady increase in the level of criminalisation that has been creeping into the Indian polity”.
The court directed that the candidate as well as the concerned political party “shall issue a declaration in the widely circulated newspapers in the locality about the antecedents of the candidate and also give wide publicity in the electronic media”, said Chief Justice Misra, speaking for the five-judge Constitution Bench.
“When we say wide publicity, we mean that the same shall be done at least thrice after filing of the nomination papers,” said the bench, also comprising Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra.
The complete information about the criminal antecedents of the candidates forms the bedrock of wise decision-making and informed choice by the citizenry, the court said while emphasising that “informed choice is the cornerstone to have a pure and strong democracy”.
The Constitution Bench said the society had a “legitimate expectation to be governed by proper constitutional governance. The country feels agonized when money and muscle power become the supreme power”, it said.
The apex court called for “substantial efforts” to prohibit people with criminal antecedents so that they do not even “conceive of the idea of entering into politics” and should be “kept at bay”.
It said: “We are sure, the law making wing of the democracy of this country will take it upon itself to cure the malignancy. We say so as such a malignancy is not incurable. It only depends upon the time and stage when one starts treating it.
“It is one thing to take cover under the presumption of innocence of the accused but it is equally imperative that persons who enter public life and participate in law making should be above any kind of serious criminal allegation,” the court urged Parliament
Under the criminal law, an accused person is presumed to be innocent till convicted by the court.
Holding that “informed choice” is the cornerstone to have a “pure and strong democracy”, the court said: “The complete information about the criminal antecedents of the candidates forms the bedrock of wise decision-making and informed choice by the citizens.”
Issuing a slew of directions to the political parties and prospective candidates, the court directed that the candidate contesting elections “shall state, in bold letters”, about the criminal cases pending against him/her in the form provided by the Election Commission at the time of filing nomination papers.
The court directed that a candidate contesting election on the ticket of a political party would inform the party about the criminal cases pending against him/her and that party “shall be obligated to put up on its website” information on criminal antecedents of the candidate fielded by it.
Saying that “we have issued the said directions with immense anguish,” the court said: “These directions ought to be implemented in true spirit and right earnestness in a bid to strengthen the democratic set-up.”
“There may be certain gaps or lacunae in a law or legislative enactment which can definitely be addressed by the legislature if it is backed by the proper intent, strong resolve and determined will of right-thinking minds to ameliorate the situation,” the court said.
It further said that it “must also be borne in mind that the law cannot always be found fault with for the lack of its stringent implementation by the concerned authorities”.
It is the “solemn responsibility” of all concerned to enforce the law as well as the directions laid down by this court from time to time in order to “infuse the culture of purity in politics and in democracy and foster and nurture an informed citizenry, for ultimately it is the citizenry which decides the fate and course of politics in a nation and thereby ensures that we shall be governed no better than we deserve”.