The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered political parties to publish the entire criminal history of their candidates for Assembly and Lok Sabha elections along with the reasons that goaded them to field suspected criminals over decent people.
The information should be published in a local as well as a national newspaper as well as the parties’ social media handles. It should mandatorily be published either within 48 hours of the selection of candidates or less than two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations, whichever is earlier.
A Bench led by Justices Rohinton F. Nariman, in the judgment, ordered political parties to submit compliance reports with the Election Commission of India within 72 hours or risk contempt of court action.
The judgment is applicable to parties both at Central and State levels.
The judgment by the Bench, also comprising Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, signified the court's alarm at the unimpeded rise of criminals, often facing heinous charges like rape and murder, encroaching into the country's political and electoral scenes.
Information should be detailed
The published information on the criminal antecedents of a candidate should be detailed and include the nature of their offences, charges framed against him, the court concerned, case number, etc.
A political party should explain to the public through their published material how the “qualifications or achievements or merit” of a candidate, charged with a crime, impressed it enough to cast aside the smear of his criminal background.
A party would have to give reasons to the voter that it was not the candidate’s “mere winnability at the polls” which guided its decision to give him ticket to contest elections.
“It appears that over the last four general elections, there has been an alarming increase in the incidence of criminals in politics . In 2004, 24% of the Members of Parliament had criminal cases pending against them; in 2009, that went up to 30%; in 2014 to 34%; and in 2019 as many as 43% of MPs had criminal cases pending against them”, Justice Nariman wrote.
The four-page judgment was based on a contempt petition filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay about the general disregard shown by political parties to a 2018 Constitution Bench judgment (Public Interest Foundation v. Union of India) to publish the criminal details of their candidates in their respective websites and print as well as electronic media for public awareness.
“In this judgment (2018), this court was cognisant of the increasing criminalisation of politics in India and the lack of information about such criminalisation among the citizenry”, Justice Nariman observed.