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Fresh push to poll ban on criminals

New Delhi, March 27: Politicians with criminal records and corrupt bureaucrats could be in trouble if an action plan drafted by the home ministry is accepted.

The draft prepared by the home ministry's Inter-State Council secretariat in consultation with state governments and Union ministers has recommended a bar on 'entry of persons with criminal records into the electoral arena'.

The document suggests state funding of legitimate political and electoral campaign and measures to prevent rigging.

It is widely accepted that the existing law, which bars convicts from contesting elections, has not blocked entry of criminals. Political parties have been reluctant to keep them out.

Last week, the Rashtriya Janata Dal's Pappu Yadav, still in judicial custody, took oath as an MP in the Lok Sabha after getting special permission from the courts.

A public interest litigation seeking a bar on candidates with criminal antecedents in the Supreme Court was nipped in the bud by the Vajpayee government which convened an all-party meeting where the majority view was that this was an issue for Parliament to decide, and not the judiciary.

Except for the Left, all political parties have opposed moves to keep undertrials out. Some have argued no one can be dubbed a criminal unless convicted, while others have said elections in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh cannot be fought without muscle power.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was accused of appointing MPs with criminal records to his ministry, has since spoken of the need for reform but there has been little movement.

Home ministry officials said next week, when Singh chairs the meeting of the Inter-State Council, there will be an opportunity for the political leadership to look at the issue afresh.

The draft is on the agenda for discussions on good governance at Tuesday's meeting.

Officials concede, though, that it is too early to expect political leaders to come to an agreement. 'This document will form the starting point on the road to good governance,' an official said.

Politicians, however, are not the only ones likely to be hit if the action plan is cleared. Bureaucrats who have made money on the sly could also find themselves looking at the face of justice.

The document asks for a consensus on amending Article 311 of the Constitution which provides constitutional guarantee against arbitrary and vindictive action. This provision was conceived to protect honest officers but ended up making dismissal of corrupt and inefficient bureaucrats nearly impossible.

It seeks confiscation of all assets held by civil servants convicted of possessing assets disproportionate to their income and a fresh law to enable recovery of damages suffered by the government because of mala fide action by the bureaucrats.

To ensure that honest bureaucrats are not penalised, the plan has suggested creation of autonomous Civil Service Boards to recommend placement, promotion and transfer.

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