The campaign for the decriminalization of politics is high on the national agenda. The role of judiciary and civil society in highlighting the menace of criminalization and ways to curb the trend has been historic
The order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court on March 10, 2014 has a very long range impact in terms of remedy. The bench headed by Justice RM Lodha of Hon’ble Supreme Court has ordered for expediting the proceedings against sitting MPs and MLAs in criminal cases and has further set a deadline for the trial court to complete the hearing of the cases within a year of framing of charges.
It has further provided that the trial court need to give explanation to the Chief Justice of the respective High Court if the trial is not completed within a year. The bench observed that the proceedings should be conducted on a day-to-day basis in order to decide the case within the prescribed time limit.
If effectively implemented, this order has far reaching consequences in cleansing the politics of the country. Firstly, it would deter the criminals from seeking tickets as this would expose them to the prescribed limit of one year for the judicial verdict on the charges. Secondly, the political parties who are sensitive to the number game in terms of capturing power would shy away from taking risk of giving tickets to candidates with criminal background as any conviction of sitting MLA/MP would result in vacancy in the State Assembly and in the Parliament as the case may be which could directly impact the tenuous majority of the ruling party. The judgment of March 10, 2014 has come at a very opportune time as the parties are actively engaged in selecting candidates for forthcoming elections to Parliament and few State Assemblies
The Public Interest Litigation was filed by an NGO, Public Interest Foundation in 2010-11. This PIL was admitted on grounds that the entry of criminals amounts to coercion in the electoral process and the free exercise of vote and the ultimate choice is a compromise. The petition has made four prayers. Firstly, it sought relief for the issuance of guidelines to ensure that those charged with serious criminal offenses are disqualified to contest the elections to Parliament and State Legislature. Second, prayer was for laying down six months time period for judicial determination of the charge sheet by the competent court. Thirdly, direction to the Government for enacting appropriate legislation so as to debar those charged with serious criminal offenses contesting elections and lastly, declare the provisions of section 8(4) of the Representation of People Act, 1951 as unconstitutional.
The interested parties, i.e. Election Commission of India and the Union Government were given due notice by the apex court. Fortunately, the Election Commission concurred with the prayer made in the PIL. However, the Union of India did not play ball with the campaign against decriminalization and raised the preliminary objection that the prayer falls in the domain of parliamentary legislation as policy matter and cannot be heard by Hon’ble Supreme Court. However, the bench of the apex court was sensitive to the cause and sought the recommendations the Law Commission on the issue of disqualification once the charge sheet is framed and the penalty under section 125A of RPA, 1951 in cases where falls affidavit is filed by the candidate. The Law Commission gave its recommendation to the apex court.