The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt for new poll reform bench

New Delhi, Oct. 13 (PTI): Defending the electoral reforms Ordinance framed after an all-party consensus, the Centre has submitted before the Supreme Court that its legality should not be tested on the basis of the court’s May 2 judgment which envisaged declaring much more information by candidates contesting parliamentary and Assembly polls.

This argument was advanced by additional solicitor general Kirit Raval before a bench of Justices M.B. Shah, P.V. Reddi and Dharmadhikari. The bench had been hearing three petitions challenging the Ordinance on the ground that it negated the Election Commission’s guidelines issued after the apex court’s May 2 order on steps to curb criminalisation of politics.

The bench had asked whether the Centre had powers to ignore the Supreme Court order asking candidates to furnish details about their antecedents, including criminal background, if such directions were issued under those provisions which were basic features of the Constitution.

During the three-day hearing last week, Raval contended that the court in several of its earlier rulings had categorically held that the right to vote was not a fundamental right but “purely a statutory right” and, thus, could not form part of the basic features of the Constitution.

He said “as there is a conflict between the earlier opinions rendered by the court and the May 2 order, which form core of the represent petition, the issues should be referred to a Constitution bench having not less than five judges as its members.”

The petitioners had submitted that the government did not want any reforms to curb criminalisation of politics.

They said the present scenario reflected the Vohra committee report on the nexus between criminals and politicians, terming the Election Commission’s notification, issued after the court order, the right way to deal with the situation.

The Union government submitted that after the apex court’s May 2 order, the all-party meeting had discussed the issue threadbare and accepted certain directions while not accepting the others.

“To what extent legislative wisdom can be discarded is the core question in the proceedings,” Raval said, adding: “If the provisions of the Ordinance violated the fundamental rights, then it could be ground for the court to strike down a legislation but not otherwise.”

Appearing for the BJP, senior advocate Arun Jaitley said if the court treated the voter’s right to information as a fundamental right, then its application had to be clearly defined.

The citizen should have the right to know about the assets and liabilities of each officer, politician and judge, besides all government dealings and files.

“To frame a legislation, the jurisdiction is exclusively with the legislature and the Supreme Court cannot even directly or indirectly direct framing of a legislation,” Jaitley said.

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