The Supreme Court on Thursday directed all political parties to upload on their website details of pending criminal cases against candidates contesting polls, noting that there has been an alarming increase in criminalisation of politics.
The apex court said political parties will also have to upload reasons for selecting candidates with pending criminal cases on their website.
A bench headed by Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman said the reasons for selecting candidates with pending criminal cases should be justifiable with reference to qualification and merit and not merely on winnability.
The court passed orders on a contempt plea which raised the issue of criminalisation of politics claiming that directions given by the apex court in its September 2018 verdict relating to disclosure of criminal antecedents by candidates are not being followed.
It also directed that political parties will publish these details on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and in one local vernacular and one national newspaper.
The top court said political parties will have to submit a compliance report in this regard to the Election Commission within 72 hours of selecting candidates having pending criminal cases against them.
It directed that the EC shall bring it to the notice of the apex court in case of failure of political parties to comply with its directions.
While pronouncing the order, the bench said it appears that there has been an alarming increase in criminalisation of politics in the last four general elections.
The apex court had earlier observed that the issue of penalising political parties or candidates for not disclosing criminal antecedents has to be dealt with carefully as serious allegations with “political overtones” are often being made against candidates.
In September 2018, a five-judge Constitution bench had unanimously held that all candidates will have to declare their criminal antecedents to the Election Commission before contesting polls and called for a wider publicity, through print and electronic media about antecedents of candidates.
It had left it to Parliament to “cure the malignancy” of criminalisation of politics by making a law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter the political arena as the “polluted stream of politics” needs to be cleansed.
During the hearing on the contempt plea, the EC had told the court that increase in the number of MPs having pending criminal cases was “disturbing” and as per the statistics, there were 43 per cent MPs in Parliament who have criminal cases against them.
The poll panel had agreed with the suggestions of senior lawyer Gopal Sankaranarayanan, representing BJP leader and petitioner Ashiwini Upadhyay, including that all political parties should mandatorily upload on their website details of candidates with criminal antecedents along with the reasons as to why those without any criminal record could not be selected.
However, the EC had said it was not agreeable to the suggestion regarding penalising the political party or its candidates under Article 324 of the Constitution for their failure to disclose criminal antecedents, as it does not have this power.
The Election Commission has also agreed with the suggestion that political parties may be asked to furnish details on its website regarding criminal antecedents of candidates and give reasons as to why he or she has been given the ticket.
On October 10, 2018, the EC had issued a notification regarding the amended Form-26 and directions to political parties and candidates for publication of criminal antecedents.
However, the plea filed by Upadhyay alleged that the EC neither amended the Election Symbol Order, 1968 nor the model code of conduct (MCC) so the said notification has no legal sanction.