Topics Covered: Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.
Criminalization of Politics
What to study?
For Prelims: Salient features of RPA.
For Mains: Criminalisation of politics- concerns, challenges and solutions.
Context: SC asks EC to devise mechanism to curb criminalization of politics.
The court also asked the poll body to come up with a framework within one week, which can contribute towards the larger issue of containing the entry of candidates having criminal background into politics.
Fielding candidates with criminal antecedents has been one of the key concerns in the recent elections.
The extent of this can be understood from the fact that according to an analysis by New Delhi based Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), nearly half the MPs of the 17th Lok Sabha elected in May last year had declared criminal cases against them.
Out of the 539 MPs which ADR analysed, 233 had declared criminal cases against them which was an increase of 44% in the number of MPs with declared criminal cases since 2009.
In its analysis released in May last year, ADR added that out of the 542 MPs analysed during Lok Sabha polls in 2014, 34% or 185 had declared criminal cases against themselves while out of 543 in 2009, 30% or 162 had declared criminal cases against themselves.
What does the RPA say on this?
Currently, under the Representation of Peoples (RP) Act, lawmakers cannot contest elections only after their conviction in a criminal case.
Section 8 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951 disqualifies a person convicted with a sentence of two years or more from contesting elections. But those under trial continued to be eligible to contest elections. The Lily Thomas case (2013), however, ended this unfair advantage.
Efforts by SC in this regard:
The SC has repeatedly expressed concern about the purity of legislatures.
- In 2002, it made it obligatory for all candidates to file an affidavit before the returning officer, disclosing criminal cases pending against them.
- The famous order to introduce NOTA was intended to make political parties think before giving tickets to the tainted.
- In its landmark judgment of March 2014, the SC accepted the urgent need for cleansing politics of criminalisation and directed all subordinate courts to decide on cases involving legislators within a year, or give reasons for not doing so to the chief justice of the high court.
Main reasons for Criminalization:
- Vote bank.
- Lack of governance.
What is the way out?
There are three possible options.
- One, political parties should themselves refuse tickets to the tainted.
- Two, the RP Act should be amended to debar persons against whom cases of a heinous nature are pending from contesting elections.
- Three, fast-track courts should decide the cases of tainted legislators quickly.
Other suggested measure to curb criminalization of politics:
- Bringing greater transparency in campaign financing is going to make it less attractive for political parties to involve gangsters.
- The Election Commission of India (ECI) should have the power to audit the financial accounts of political parties.
- Broader governance will have to improve for voters to reduce the reliance on criminal politicians.
- The Election Commission must take adequate measures to break the nexus between the criminals and the politicians.
Corruption and criminalisation of politics is hitting at the roots of democracy. Therefore, Parliament must take steps urgently to curb this menace. Candidates and political parties must give wide publicity to criminal cases pending against her/him in the local media, both print and electronic, after s/he files nomination to contest elections.
Sources: the Hindu.