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Criminalisation of politics: Why ADR has approached the ECI seeking action against political parties

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Criminalisation of politics: Why ADR has approached the ECI seeking action against political parties

Context- The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), an electoral watchdog established in 1999 by a group of professors from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad, on June 19 wrote to the Election Commission seeking action against parties that fail to publish details of criminal antecedents of candidates as per orders of the Supreme Court and the poll panel.

(Credits- Hindustan Times)

What has the Supreme Court said?

  • Hearing a petition filed by Public Interest Foundation, the Supreme Court on September 25, 2018, made it mandatory for political parties to publish the details of criminal cases pending against their candidates, including on their websites, in a format prescribed by the Election Commission of India.
  • While candidates did declare the cases pending against them in their election affidavits to the ECI before the ruling, the Supreme Court order made it mandatory for the information to be widely publicised.
  • It directed parties to publish the details of criminal cases pending against a candidate in bold letters and told the candidate with pending cases to inform the party about these cases. The court also ordered that the candidate and the party have to publish the information at least thrice after filing the nomination.
  • “We are inclined to say so, for in a constitutional democracy, criminalisation of politics is an extremely disastrous and lamentable situation. The citizens in a democracy cannot be compelled to stand as silent, deaf and mute spectators to corruption by projecting themselves as helpless.
  • Disclosure of antecedents makes the election a fair one and the exercise of the right of voting by the electorate also gets sanctified. It has to be remembered that such a right is paramount for a democracy,” the court had observed in its judgement.
  • Subsequently, in February 2020, while hearing a contempt petition regarding its 2018 order not being implemented, the apex court reiterated that the parties would have to publish the details of candidates with pending criminal cases. It also added that they would have to include the reasons for selecting such a candidate.
  • The reasons as to selection shall be with reference to the qualifications, achievements and merit of the candidate concerned, and not mere ‘winnability’ at the polls,” the court said.
  • It said the information would have to be published in one local vernacular newspaper, one national newspaper and on the official social media platforms of the political party within 48 hours of the selection or not less than two weeks before the first date of nominations, whichever is earlier.
  • The parties would then have to submit a compliance report with the ECI within 72 hours.

How are political parties flouting the Supreme Court’s orders?

  • According to ADR, political parties are flouting the Supreme Court’s orders and the ECI’s subsequent directions. Writing to the ECI on June 19, ADR said there was “wilful disobedience” by parties. It said it had analysed the forms C2 and C7, which are the ECI’s prescribed formats for submitting the information and found many shortcomings.
  • ADR also mentioned that many political parties did not have functional websites to publish the information, and those that did, had not maintained the information and/or had inaccessible website links.
  • The parties were also “copy-pasting” the similar justifications for multiple candidates.

What is happening now?

  • ADR brought the situation to the apex court’s notice and was directed, on March 17, to “pursue its remedies before the Election Commission of India”. This led the election watchdog to write the letter to ECI on June 19.
  • In its letter, ADR has asked the EC to take strict action against parties that are violating the orders, including de-registering them. ADR has also asked the ECI to publish a list of defaulting parties and impose fines on them.

Conclusion- For years, activists and independent electoral watchdogs like ADR have been raising concerns over political parties fielding candidates with criminal antecedents. After the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, according to ADR, 43% of the newly-elected MPs had pending criminal cases against them.

Syllabus- GS-2; Legislature

Source- Indian Express

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