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Apex court allows poll reforms plea revision

New Delhi, Jan. 17: The Supreme Court today allowed amendments to a petition challenging the electoral reforms Ordinance, in view of the fact that it has become an Act after a Bill was passed by Parliament.

The three-judge bench of Justice M.B. Shah, Justice P. Venkatarama Reddi and Justice D.M. Dharmadhikari allowed the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) to amend its petition.

In one of its direct challenges to the judiciary, the executive had recently declined to implement the apex court order on electoral reforms and instead brought an amendment Act in Parliament.

The court had earlier directed that candidates of all political parties and Independents fighting polls to municipalities or Parliament should declare their educational qualifications, wealth and criminal record, if any.

While the Election Commission made the court directives mandatory, the Centre called an all-party meeting that, in a rare show of unity across party lines, outright rejected the directives.

The Centre, before presenting the Bill in Parliament to be passed into an Act, had promulgated a presidential Ordinance.

A few months ago, the apex court had reserved its order on the PUCL’s challenges to the Ordinance as also a few other public interest petitions.

The bench today also gave the Centre and the political parties time till Friday to file their written submissions, now that the Ordinance has become a law.

Senior counsel and former Delhi High Court chief justice Rajinder Sachar, appearing for the PUCL, contended that the apex court had rightly asked the Election Commission to frame guidelines for candidates to disclose and declare in the nomination papers their criminal track record, assets and liabilities, and educational qualifications.

The Ordinance, now an Act, however, only provided that the elected candidates declare their assets and liabilities to the presiding officers of the respective Houses, Upper or Lower, to which they were elected.

The Ordinance did not make it mandatory for the candidates to declare educational qualifications.

The Centre defended its stand, saying under the “doctrine of unoccupied field”, the territory — that is a law on electoral reforms — was hitherto unoccupied and that once Parliament occupied it — which alone could do so — courts could not go into the matter.

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