Electoral Reforms : Criminalisation of Politics

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Context:

  • The Supreme Court has directed political parties to publish online the pending criminal cases of their candidates and urged Parliament to bring a strong law to cleanse political parties of leaders facing trial for serious crimes.

 

Importance of Political Parties in Democracy:

  • A politician may be disqualified from being a legislator, but he may continue to hold high positions within his party, thus continuing to play an important public role which he has been deemed unfit for by the law.
  • Convicted politicians may continue to influence law-making by controlling the party and fielding proxy candidates in legislature.
  • Political parties act as a conduit through which interests and issues of the people are represented in Parliament. They play a central role in the interface between private citizens and public life.

 

Role of Legislature in Criminalisation of Politics:

  • Criminalisation of politics and corruption, especially at the entry level of elections, has become a national and economic terror. It is a disease which is self-destructive and becoming immune to antibiotics.
  • Parliament is obligated to act, as criminalisation in politics is a bitter manifest truth, which is a termite to the citadel of democracy.
  • Election Commission of India has its hands tied, helplessly watching as criminalisation of politics at the entry level is on the rise.
  • Rapid criminalisation of politics cannot be arrested by merely disqualifying tainted legislators but should begin by cleansing political parties.
  • The court said Parliament should frame a law that makes it obligatory for political parties to remove leaders charged with heinous and grievous crimes, such as rape, murder and kidnapping, to name only a few, and refuse ticket to offenders in both parliamentary and Assembly polls.
  • Criminals in power are nothing but a liability to this country. Their presence in power strikes at the roots of democracy.
  • The best available people, as is expected by the democratic system, should not have criminal antecedents and the voters have a right to know about their antecedents, assets and other aspects.
  • Court cannot legislate for Parliament by introducing disqualification to ban candidates facing trial for heinous crimes from contesting elections.

 

Directions

  • The court directed that candidates divulge their criminal past to the Election Commission in block letters.
  • Candidates should make a full disclosure of the criminal cases pending against them to the political parties under whose banner they intend to contest the polls.
  • The parties, in turn, should put up the complete details of their candidates on their websites for public consumption.
  • Further, both the candidate and the political party should declare the criminal antecedents of the former in widely-circulated newspapers.
  • Finally, both the candidate and the political party should give wide publicity to the criminal record of the former by airing it on TV channels, not once, but thrice after the filing of nomination papers.

 

Elections Commission

  • The Election Commission said it would examine the Supreme Court judgement and based on the findings, would issue necessary instructions for compliance by the parties concerned.

 

Significance

  • The judgement, which compels political parties to come clean about the criminal elements within their apparatus, is unique as it opens a new vista that the process of breaking crime-politics nexus extends much beyond purity of legislators and encompasses purity of political parties as well.
  • The directions to political parties to go public about the criminal cases against their candidates is a step to foster and nurture an informed citizenry. It is to protect the culture and purity in politics.
  • It ensures that ordinary voters can have an informed choice about who he or she has to vote for in a country which already feels agonised when money and muscle power become the supreme power.
  • Disclosure of antecedents makes the election a fair one and the exercise of the right of voting by the electorate also gets sanctified.

 

Background

Law Commission Reports

  • Political parties have been chiefly responsible for criminalisation of politics.
  • The Law Commission of India, in its 244th report, succinctly put it that instead of politicians having suspected links to criminal networks, as was the case earlier, it was persons with extensive criminal backgrounds who began entering politics.
  • The Law Commission said that in the 10 years since 2004, 18% of the candidates contesting either national or State elections had criminal cases against them (11,063 out of 62,847).
  • Though the Representation of the People Act disqualifies a sitting legislator or a candidate on certain grounds, there is nothing regulating the appointments to offices within the party.

1993 Mumbai bomb blasts

  • The presence of criminalisation of politics was felt in its strongest form during the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts.
  • The blasts was the result of a collaboration of a diffused network of criminal gangs, police and customs officials and their political patrons and the tremors of the attacks shook the entire nation.

Vohra panel report

  • The court referred to how the N.N. Vohra Committee, which was set up following a public outcry after the blasts, submitted its report in October 1993 after its study of the problem of criminalisation of politics and the nexus among criminals, politicians and bureaucrats in India.
  • The committee had concluded that agencies, including the CBI, IB, RAW, had unanimously expressed their opinion that the criminal network was virtually running a parallel government.
  • The committee report mentioned how money power was first acquired through real estate and then used for building up contacts with bureaucrats and politicians.
  • The money power is used to develop a network of muscle power which is also used by the politicians during elections.

Other reports

  • The judgment also refers to the fact that voices within Parliament also felt the need to end the bane of criminal politics.
  • The 18th Report presented by a parliamentary committee to the Rajya Sabha in March 2007 expressed a strong feeling that politics should be cleansed of persons with established criminal background. It said criminalisation of politics is the bane of society and negation of democracy.
  • The Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms, as early as in 1990, highlighted the crippling effect of money and muscle power in elections.

 

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Criminalisation of Politics : SC View

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  • The Supreme Court proposed to make political parties accountable for criminalising politics by welcoming in “crooks” who may later win elections on party ticket and grab power.
  • Parties get new members to declare in an affidavit their criminal antecedents and publish them so that the entire country knows how many criminals there are in a party.
  • EC could de-register a party or withdraw its symbol if it refused to comply.
  • The suggestion was made by the Bench in a bid to prevent criminals from entering politics or later contesting elections to become parliamentarians, legislators and Ministers.
  • The Bench based its proposal on the power of the Election Commission to conduct an election and register/de-register political parties under Article 324 of the Constitution and Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act of 1951, respectively.
  • The court invoked The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order of 1968.

NOTA in indirect elections

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Context:

  • Supreme Court scrapped use of NOTA (none of the above) option for Rajya Sabha elections, saying it defeats fairness in indirect elections, destroys democratic values and serves as Satan of defection and corruption.

ias4sure.com - NOTA in indirect elections

 

SC Pronouncement

  • It quashed June 2014 notification of Election Commission that allowed use of NOTA option in Rajya Sabha elections.
  • It held that NOTA will destroy concept of value of vote and representation, and encourage defection that shall open doors for corruption which is malignant disorder.
  • It held that choice of NOTA will have negative impact in voting process of Rajya Sabha where open ballot is permissible and secrecy of voting has no room and discipline of political parties matters.

 

Background

  • NOTA was introduced in Lok Sabha polls (direct election) by Election Commission of India (ECI) following 2013 Supreme Court decision.
  • It was extended to Rajya Sabha election (i.e. indirect elections) via notification in January 2014.
  • Election Commission in apex court had justified its decision of introducing NOTA in Rajya Sabha elections, mentioning that it did not make any distinction between direct and indirect elections.

Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2017

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ias4sure.com - Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2017

Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2017

  • Lok Sabha has passed Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2017 by voice vote to extend the facility of ‘proxy voting’ to overseas Indians, on the lines of service voters.
  • The Bill seeks to amend Representation of People Act (RPA), 1950 and Representation of People Act (RPA), 1951 to allow for proxy voting and make certain provisions of these Acts gender-neutral.

 

Current status:

  • RPA, 1950 provides for allocation of seats and delimitation of constituencies for elections (state assembly and Lok Sabha elections), qualifications of voters, and preparation of electoral rolls.
  • It permits registration of persons in electoral rolls who are ordinarily resident in constituency.
  • These persons include persons holding service qualification (such as member of armed forces, member of armed police force of state, serving outside state or central government employees posted outside India and  persons holding certain offices in India declared by President in consultation with Election Commission).
  • Under it wives of such persons are also deemed to be ordinarily residing in India.
  • RPA, 1951 provides for conduct of elections and offences and disputes related to elections.
  • It permits an overseas voter to vote only in person.
  • In this case overseas voter is citizen of India who is absent from his place of ordinary residence in India. 
  • Currently, only service personnel are permitted to vote through proxy.

 

Key Features of Bill

  • The Bill replaces the term ‘wife’ with ‘spouse’ in both Acts.
  • It replaces wife with spouse of a person holding service qualification to vote.
  • It amends RPA, 1951 to permit overseas voter to cast their vote in person or by proxy in constituency where elections are being conducted.

 

Significance

  • According to rough estimates, there are about 1 crore Indians settled abroad, of which 60 lakh may be within eligible voting age.
  • By granting them proxy voting rights, overseas Indians will be able to exercise franchise during elections and also need not to spend foreign currency to come to India during elections.
  • Moreover, this decision will also enable overseas Indian to considerably sway in election results, especially in states such as Punjab, Kerala and Gujarat where a number of expats hail from.

Electoral bonds

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  • The electoral bonds scheme was announced in Union Budget 2017 with an aim for increasing transparency in political funding.
  • It makes India first country in the world to have such unique bonds for electoral funding.
  • These bonds are bearer instrument in nature of promissory note and interest-free banking instrument.
  • It aims at rooting out current system of largely anonymous cash donations made to political parties which lead to generation of black money in the economy.
  • These electoral bonds can be bought for any value in multiples of Rs 1,000, Rs 10,000, Rs 1 lakh, Rs 10 lakh or Rs 1 crore after fulfilling all existing Know Your Customer (KYC) norms and making payments from bank account.
  • It will not carry name of payee.
  • The bond deposited by any eligible political party to its account shall be credited on the same day.
  • No payment shall be made to any payee political party if bond is deposited after expiry of validity period.
  • Eligible political parties can encash electoral bonds only through their bank accounts.
  • Electoral Bonds may be purchased by only citizen of India.
  • An individual can buy Electoral Bonds, either singly or jointly with other individuals.
  • Electoral Bonds are valid for fifteen calendar days from the date of issue.
  • Only registered political parties, that have secured not less than 1% of votes polled in last election of Lok Sabha or legislative assembly of state, will be eligible to receive electoral bonds.
  • The cash donation has been capped at Rs. 2000 and beyond that donations are via electoral bonds.

Criminalisation of Politics

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Facts:

  • Data from the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) indicate that 179 out of the 543 elected Members of Parliament in the present Lok Sabha have some kind of criminal case pending against them.
  • In the case of over 100 MPs, the cases were of a very serious nature such as crimes against women and kidnapping. There seems to be very little improvement in this regard in the last five years.
  • In the previous Lok Sabha (2009), 163 had criminal cases pending against them, many of which were of a serious nature.
  • The profile of members of the Upper House is no better; of 228 members of the Rajya Sabha for whom data could be analysed, 20 have cases of serious crimes pending against them.
  • Going by the ADR’s estimates, there are more than 1,500 MPs and MLAs in Parliament and State Assemblies with criminal cases pending against them.

 

Fast Track Courts:

  • Centre to set up 12 Fast Track Courts to speed up trials of Legislators
  • Details:
    • The Supreme Court nodded for the Centre’s scheme to set up 12 fast track courts.
    • These courts to exclusively prosecute and dispose of 1,581 criminal cases pending against Members of Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies within a year.
    • These 1,581 criminal cases were declared by politicians in their nominations during the 2014 general elections.
    • The States shall, in consultation with the High Court’s concerned, make the courts operational by March 1, 2018.
    • The Supreme Court directed the High Courts, acting through the various trial courts, to trace out from the case records the criminal cases pending against politicians and transfer them to the special courts concerned for adjudication.

 

SC on criminalisation of politics:

Supreme Court has left it to Parliament to legislate on the issue of candidates facing criminal charges getting elected to Parliament and State legislative Assemblies.

  • The court mentioned that it was not within its powers to disqualify politicians facing criminal cases from contesting election, but recommended that Parliament enact a strong law.
  • However, the court made it mandatory for political parties and candidates themselves to make public disclosure through print and electronic media.

 

Will Political Parties act?

  • No political party is free of this problem. The use of muscle power along with money power is a weapon used by all political parties to maximise electoral gains.
  • In such a scenario, any move to ban candidates with a criminal record from contesting elections would mean political parties inflicting self-harm.
  • While political parties raise concern about candidates with a tainted background contesting elections and getting elected, none of them come forward to set an example for others when it is time to act.

 

Role of Election Commission

  • The issue is far more important and serious than the attention being paid to it by the policy makers.
  • While the Election Commission has limited powers to legislate on such laws, it is only Parliament which can legislate to bring about the desired change.