Order a step in the right direction, says former Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla

The Election Commission has welcomed the Supreme Court verdict declaring ultra vires Section 8 (4) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 that allowed convicted MPs, MLAs and MLCs to continue their membership if they had appealed against their conviction/sentence within three months of the date of judgment.

Similarly, it was happy with another order in the judgment that barred jailed persons from contesting polls, “though there are some grey areas in the verdict.”

Terming the verdict “landmark and historic, as it has sent a strong message to criminals in politics” a top official of the Commission told The Hindu that “fruits are falling from different trees though the Commission was aiming at some other tree.” He recalled that the Commission’s recommendations, as part of the electoral reforms, sent to the government on July 15, 1998, had sought disqualification of even those persons charge-sheeted in the court of law for offences in which the sentence could be five years’ imprisonment or more.

To check criminals

“We want to check criminals from contesting polls and becoming people’s representatives, but these reforms have not yet been approved by Parliament,” he said.

On the order on banning those in jails from contesting polls, he said though under 62 (5) of the RP Act, no person who is in jail/police custody/preventive detention, could participate in polling, there were instances where court’s permission was obtained to exercise their franchise. Even in the Presidential poll, an MP, who was in jail for corruption cases, had voted with the permission of the court.

“If a jailed person is prevented from contesting poll, what will happen if a person is arrested and jailed after his nomination was accepted by the returning officer during scrutiny? Or what will happen if the person is arrested during the campaign period or on the polling day? Are they eligible to contest the poll or not?” the official said adding that there were points to be discussed further.

The former Chief Election Commissioner, Navin Chawla, too welcomed the verdict as “a step in the right direction.” He wanted the government to approve the Commission’s suggestion for decriminalisation of politics.

Informed sources said presently, as per the RP Act, a person, who has been convicted and sentenced to two-year imprisonment or more, cannot contest any poll to Parliament, Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council.

However, in cases relating to dacoity, FERA, rape, dowry, NDPS Act (Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act), POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) and bribery, mere conviction would disqualify a person from contesting any election. This is applicable even if the person is on bail after the conviction and his appeal is pending for disposal in the higher court.

The disqualification will be in force for six years from the date of release of the person from jail.

While sending its recommendations, the Commission, to ensure that the candidates were not framed in politically-motivated cases, proposed that “as a precaution against foisting false cases on the eve of election, it has been suggested that only those cases in which charges are framed six months prior to an election be taken into account for that election.”

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