Law Commission query to political parties

To end criminalisation of politics, the Law Commission of India has sought the views of political parties and other stakeholders on whether a charge-sheeted person can be disqualified from contesting elections. It also wanted to know whether law should be amended to prevent a person from contesting in more than one constituency.

In its consultation paper on electoral reforms, the Commission, headed by Justice D.K. Jain, said the main area of concern over elections was criminalisation of politics. The Commission said: “The need to take the law forward on the issue of … disqualification is thus long-felt. Under the present scheme of Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, disqualification is triggered on conviction for the offences enumerated therein, which requires proof beyond reasonable doubt. Concern has been raised that for preserving the integrity of the election process, there is need to travel beyond the domain of criminality and evaluate the fitness of a candidate on the touchstone of certain enumerated standards.”

The paper says: “It is important to bear in mind that many a time … the democratic process is distorted by the conduct of the elements among political parties, elected representatives and different sections of society, who try to influence the process of governance for … purely partisan ends. That is why, over a period of time, regulation of the conduct of political parties, election expenditure and corrupt practices in … elections attracted the attention of civil society and the government.

“While some constructive steps have been taken through significant amendments to the Representation of the People Act, 1951, these reforms have failed to keep up a consistent pace with the growth and strengthening of the democratic values. Issues pertaining to election malpractices seem to come to the limelight in times of brazen and gross violations of procedures but soon fade into oblivion. Therefore, a review of the laws and procedures in light of new developments and complexities is necessary.”

“The process of elections shows a symbiotic relationship with the fourth estate …, the media, which performs the crucial function of dispensation of information about candidates and parties. It is … felt that this symbiosis is being abused through a phenomenon popularly referred to as ‘paid news,’ which is affecting the vitals of our democratic polity. It is believed that the present institutional set-up lacks teeth to curtail this malpractice. There is also a view that the news channels owned or controlled by political parties or candidates or vested interests engage in prejudiced reporting that affects free and fair election,” it said.

The main issues

The commission sought views on the following issues: whether the existing provisions (constitutional or statutory) relating to disqualification need to be amended; whether disqualification should be triggered upon conviction, as it exists today, or upon framing of charges by court, or upon filing of charge sheet; and whether certain offences ought to be brought within the purview of law for disqualification. On state funding for elections, the paper questioned whether there should be state funding at all for elections. “If yes, what should be the criteria for, and quantum of, funding? In what form should such funding and its accountability be provided for?”

Paid news

On ‘paid news,’ the commission has sought the response on “How can the integrity of election be protected from being affected by ‘paid news’? What measures need to be taken within the constitutional framework of free speech, where print or electronic media owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by political parties, candidates or vested interests broadcast prejudiced news in such a manner as to influence free and fair elections? Whether any restriction should be imposed on advertisements from government highlighting achievements for six months before the expiry of the term of the House?”