New Delhi, Sep 25: The Supreme Court has refrained from debarring politicians with criminal charges from contesting elections but asked political parties to advertise the criminal antecedents of such candidates in the media so as to enable voters to make an informed choice.
A five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by the Chief Justice Dipak Misra, said it expected Parliament to enact a law to check criminalisation of politics. 'The nation eagerly waits for such a legislation...society has a right to be governed by better people,' the Bench said. The Bench included Justice RF Nariman, Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra.
The Bench said that criminals should be kept at bay. Each candidate while filing nomination papers would have declare to the Election Commission his criminal antecedents in bold letters. Such candidates would also declare such information to the political parties they belong to and the party in question would advertise his/her criminal antecedents thrice in newspapers to enable voters to make their choice.
The ruling came on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed in 2011 by thePublic Interest Foundation which demanded debarring of politicians facing serious criminal charges in order to de-criminalise the national politics. The Bench had reserved the verdict on August 28.
Ruling out any judicial legislation to check criminals entering legislative bodies, the Bench had last month wondered if it could ask the Election Commission not to allot symbols to recognised political parties’ candidates facing serious criminal charges even as the NDA government vehemently opposed it.
The Bench had said it would consider directing the Election Commission to ask political parties to get their members disclose criminal cases against them to enable voters to know about 'alleged crooks' attempting to enter the legislature.
The Attorney General, Mr. KK Venugopal, had told the Bench during the hearing that Article 102 provided for Parliament to make law on the issue and hence the top court should leave it to the wisdom of the lawmakers. He had reminded the Bench of the concept of separation of powers.
'Everybody understands that. We cannot direct Parliament to make a law. The question is what we can do to stem the rot.'
The time has come for parliament to keep criminals away and 'cure the malignancy' by bringing law, the Supreme Court. Leaving it to politicians to act against their own and set aside 'winnability' in favour of 'infusing purity in politics', the court said candidates and political parties should widely publicise criminal charges so voters can decide.
'It is the duty of parliament to keep money and muscle power at bay. Parliament should cure the malignancy and it is not incurable before it becomes fatal to democracy,' the Chief Justice said. 'National interest demands Parliament enacts such legislation and the country awaits such legislation,' he said, reading out the unanimous judgement.
The chief justice added that the court was "not in a position to add disqualification of candidates on filing of chargesheet in criminal cases."
The court said while the Election Commission cannot deny anyone a symbol, contesting candidates must declare pending criminal cases before their parties, which must be put up on websites.
Mr. Venugopal had said that denying a person the right to contest polls on a party ticket would amount to denying them the right to vote, which includes the right to contest. 'Mere allegation cannot prevent a member from contesting.' The court, he asserted, can't remain oblivious of the fact that political aspirants are often framed in cases ahead of polls and said that fast-track courts to try accused politicians were 'the only solution'.