The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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LS clears Bill on convicts’ poll bar

New Delhi, Dec. 12: The Lok Sabha today took another step to curb criminalisation of politics by passing a Bill that extends the period for which persons convicted of heinous crimes like murder and rape cannot contest elections.

A convicted person will now be debarred from contesting elections for six years after completion of his original sentence. For instance, if a person is sent to prison for seven years, he will be debarred from contesting for a total of 13 years — six years added to the seven years of his sentence.

Expressing concern over rising criminalisation of politics, members cutting across party lines supported the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, which was passed by voice vote. The legislation seeks to plug certain loopholes in electoral laws and to bar people convicted of heinous crimes.

Replying to a debate on the Bill, law minister K. Jana Krishnamurthi said at present, there was an anomaly that enabled convicts sentenced to longer jail terms to contest polls while still in prison as the ban was only for six years.

He said persons convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act would also be brought under the Bill’s ambit. If a person was punished or sentenced for only two years, he would be barred from contesting polls for another six years.

Earlier, initiating the discussion, S. Nachiappan of the Congress referred to the recent arrests of MDMK leader Vaiko and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi and said measures should be taken to prevent misuse of the law.

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said parties and not laws could check criminalisation of politics and feared that laws were liable to be misused. Of the 786 MPs — in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha — only 2 per cent had criminal records, he said, and asked what the government proposed to do about criminal offences committed by bureaucrats, industrialists and other influential persons.

Senior CPM member Somnath Chatterjee said the government was trying to tackle the situation in a piece-meal manner. Instead, a comprehensive legislation should have been brought.

Saying that he supported the spirit of the Bill, Congress member Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said courts were often making “uncalled for” interventions in the name of judicial activism.

Das Munshi added that a law should be introduced to try and debar those who have a hand in the destruction of “be it a temple, a church, or mosque”. He also referred to Vaiko’s arrest and said under the present political system, the anti-terrorism Act could be misused.

K. Malaisamy of the ADMK sought comprehensive electoral reforms to curb criminalisation of politics.

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