New Delhi, Aug. 19: The Supreme Court today gave the Centre six weeks to specify whether it intends to disqualify those charged with “heinous crimes” such as murder and rape from contesting elections.
The deadline was seen as a virtual ultimatum as the Centre had not responded to earlier notices since hearings on the matter began in 2011.
The Election Commission backed such a bar today, telling a bench of Justices R.M. Lodha and Madan B. Lokur that since framing of charges involved application of judicial mind, there was no reason why Parliament should be reluctant to frame such rules.
The move comes against the backdrop of unease among political parties at the court’s recent rulings that not only convicted persons but even undertrials should be barred from elections. The Centre has filed review petitions against the orders passed by another bench.
Today, Justices Lodha and Lokur sought to strike a balance by asserting that while the court was determined to ensure purity of elections, there should be sufficient safeguards to prevent possible misuse of the bar on convicted persons.
For this, it would be appropriate for the legislature to come out with a suitable law instead of the court passing any directive, the bench said.
“The objective is to achieve purity in the election process. We have to take care that the provision is not misused. We want to ensure that criminals do not enter legislative bodies. But it has to be done by a legislation,” Justice Lodha, heading the bench, said and gave the Centre six weeks to respond.
The bench was hearing a PIL filed by an NGO, Public Interest Foundation, seeking guidelines to bar from polls those chargesheeted for criminal offences. Hearings on the plea got adjourned several times in the past two years because of the lack of the Centre’s response.
Additional-solicitor general Paras Kuhad, appearing for the Centre, said today that if the NGO’s contention was accepted, it would result in abuse of the provision by vested interests. But the bench countered by saying: “You have to ensure that the provision is not misused.”
The NGO’s counsel, Dinesh Dwivedi, claimed politicians had “ganged up” against the move, a remark Kuhad objected to. Justice Lodha then asked the Election Commission for its views. Commission counsel Meenakshi Arora said that once a charge is framed in a criminal case, the person should be disqualified from contesting.
The commission, she said, believed that at the stage of framing charges, there is application of “judicial mind” and the “evidence has undergone scrutiny”.
But the poll panel suggested that only cases filed six months prior to announcement of elections should be considered for such disqualification. The bar should also apply to those found guilty by a commission of inquiry, the panel said.