|SC thrusts poll reform on govt
New Delhi, March 13: The Supreme Court today struck down the legislative amendments on electoral reforms, making it compulsory for a candidate to declare his wealth and criminal record, if any, before polls.
A three-judge bench of Justices M.B. Shah, P. Venkatarama Reddi and D.M. Dharmadhikari, in three separate but concurrent judgments, ruled that the legislative power to “change laws” could not violate a fundamental right.
After the apex court’s decision last year mandating a candidate to declare wealth, criminal records and educational qualifications, then Union law minister Jana Krishnamurthi had called an all-party meet that vetoed all the directives.
Instead, politicians of all parties and ideologies decided to amend the Representation of People’s Act. Under the amended provisions, only a winning candidate was required to declare wealth to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha/Assembly and the chairman of the Rajya Sabha/Assembly upper House.
No criminal record, if any, was required to be filed along with the nomination papers before contesting an election.
The apex court today threw out the amended provisions, calling them an infringement on “citizens’ fundamental right to information”.
“A voter is first a citizen of this country and apart from statutory rights, he has fundamental rights conferred by the Constitution,” the bench said.
On amending a law after a court verdict, the bench said: “It is true that (the) legislature is entitled to change the law with retrospective effect which forms the basis of a judicial decision. This exercise of power is subject to constitutional provisions, therefore, it (the legislature) cannot enact a law which is violative of fundamental rights.”
“Section 33B (the amended one under which a candidate need not disclose the details even if there is a court order) is on the face of it beyond the legislative competence as this court has held it to be violative of the fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution,” the bench said. Article 19(1)(a) guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression.
The apex court said the amended Act “does not wholly cover the directions issued by this court. On the contrary, it provides (that) the candidate would not be bound to furnish the information as directed by this court”.
“Members of a democratic society should be sufficiently informed so that they may cast their votes intelligently in favour of persons who are to govern them,” the bench added.
The judges said the apex court was “obliged by the Constitution to intervene (in the matter) because the legislative field, even after the passing of the Act, leaves a vacuum”.
“Right to vote would be meaningless unless citizens are well informed about the antecedent of a candidate,” the bench said. “There can be little doubt that exposure to public gaze and scrutiny is one of the surest means to cleanse our democratic governing system and to have (a) competent legislature.”