Updated: Jul 15
In February 2020, the Supreme Court of India gave a landmark judgement on criminalisation in politics. The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered political parties to publish the entire criminal history of their candidates for Assembly and Lok Sabha elections along with the reasons that forced them to select suspected criminals. It will first be implemented in the coming Bihar elections in October 2020.
Highlights of the order
It is mandatory for political parties (at the Central and State election level) to upload on their website detailed information regarding individuals with pending criminal cases. It shall also include the nature of their offences, charges framed against them, the court concerned, case number, etc.
Additionally, the political parties need to offer an explanation as to why candidates with pending criminal cases are selected as candidates in the first place. Thus the candidate’s mere winnability at the polls’ shall not be the sole reason for handing over a ticket to the candidate to contest elections.
The above information needs to be published in a local as well as a national newspaper as well as the parties’ social media handles.
The information mandatorily to 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.
The political parties need to submit compliance reports with the Election Commission of India within 72 hours. If a political party fails to submit then the Election Commission shall bring such non-compliance by the political party concerned to the notice of the Supreme Court as being in contempt of this Court’s orders/directions.
Why did the court pass such an order?
The judgement notes that "In 2004, 24% of the Members of Parliament had criminal cases pending against them; in 2009, that went upto 30%; in 2014 to 34%; and in 2019 as many as 43% of MPs had criminal cases pending against them."
This alarming increase in the MPs with criminal background compelled the Court to take this decision.
An ever present silent crisis is the steady deterioration in politics over decades, with the accelerating decline in the past 16 years. Because of this order, the political party and its leadership would fir the first time have to own up to criminalisation of politics. We may not see dramatic changes in the quality of candidates, but this definitely pushes the envelope further on restricting criminal candidates from contesting elections.