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Election reforms await SC verdict

New Delhi, Oct. 23: The Supreme Court today reserved verdict on a batch of petitions challenging the Union government’s Ordinance nullifying the three key aspects of electoral reforms.

The three proposals dealt with disclosure of criminal record of candidates, their educational background and assets and liabilities.

A bench of Justices M.B. Shah, P. Venkatrama Reddy and D.M. Dharmadhikari reserved judgment after the conclusion of arguments on behalf of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and the Union government.

PUCL counsel and retired chief justice of Delhi High Court Rajinder Sacchar argued that the apex court had rightly asked the Election Commission to frame guidelines to ensure the disclosure of the candidates’ criminal antecedents, assets and liabilities and educational qualifications.

However, the Union government defended the Ordinance through additional solicitor general Kirit Raval.

Raval contended that the “right to information is not an absolute right of the people” and that once Parliament had occupied the area, neither a court nor the Election Commission could direct enactment of a law.

The verdict is likely to be pronounced within two weeks and the outcome will have its impact on the Gujarat elections where several politicians are facing cases related to communal riots.

The apex court had said in May that the three issues should be declared in an affidavit at the time of filing nominations so that people who elect their representatives to legislatures, municipalities and panchayats come to know about the character of those contesting the polls.

However, two all-party meetings on the subject rejected the disclosure norms and the government went ahead with a presidential Ordinance nullifying the directive of the apex court.

According to the Ordinance, successful candidates alone need to declare assets and liabilities to the presiding officers of the House to which they are elected, an existing practice under the Representation of the People’s Act. The decree was silent on the need to declare educational qualifications and criminal record, if any, of the candidates.

The PUCL, which had petitioned Delhi High Court seeking these changes in electoral laws, challenged the Ordinance before the Supreme Court.

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