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Little new in poll clean-up drive

New Delhi, Oct. 5: The electoral reform Bill may not come through this time, too, though the Cabinet has cleared a proposal to bar candidates from contesting elections for six years after release from jail.

Government sources said the “minor” change in the Representation of People’s Act did not “alter much” as it only “envisages that the six-year ban period commence from the date of a convict’s release from prison”.

The existing Section 8 of the Act bars a person convicted for two or more years from contesting elections for six years, which starts from the conviction date.

The change proposed is that this six-year period should start from the date of the convict’s release from jail. That is, the period starts after the convict has served two or more years in jail.

“Under these circumstances, a full-fledged Bill incorporating all the directions contained in the Supreme Court order will not be prepared for introduction in the winter session of Parliament. Only the amendment or insertion to Section 8 through an amendment Bill would be introduced in Parliament,” the sources pointed out.

Further changes to include offences like murder and rape in the sweep of the amended section will also be brought in. This, too, means that candidates convicted for two or more years for murder and rape would be disqualified for six years from the date of release from jail.

The Supreme Court had upheld a Delhi High Court verdict on a PIL by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties seeking a direction by July 1 that candidates declare their educational background, assets and liabilities and criminal background, if any. As there was no action from the government, the Election Commission incorporated the guidelines in its nomination rules.

But an all-party meeting in the first week of July and later convened by Union law minister Jana Krishnamurthi rejected the proposals. The government introduced another clause, saying persons with charges of “two heinous crimes” would be disqualified from contesting.

Heinous crimes were classified as “rape, attempt to murder, dacoity, dacoity with murder wielding illegal weapons, any terrorism related offence”.

Even this clause was to be dropped after the second all-party meet rejected it. Now, yet another proposal has come with two “minor” changes.

“But for this, the new proposal has nothing any where near the apex court’s direction,” legal circles said. So no comprehensive new Bill will see the light of Parliament’s winter session.

except these two proposed changes.

In effect, the proposed changes are little more than eyewash. But it will give the government the chance to say that it has been acting on the court’s recommendations.

The PUCL has already gone on appeal before the Supreme Court challenging non-implementation of the court’s core directions on the three contentious guidelines. Arguments are scheduled to begin soon.

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