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Corrupt Practices Under RPA Act 1951

Context:

Recently, the Supreme Court (SC) has said that providing false information about electoral Candidates Qualification is not a Corrupt Practice under RPA (Representation of People’s Act) Act 1951.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Supreme Court’s Decision on a Petition Challenging High Court’s Ruling
  2. Corrupt Practices under the RPA, 1951
  3. Previous Court Rulings on Corrupt Practices in Elections
  4. Representation of the People Act 1951: Provisions and Significance

Supreme Court’s Decision on a Petition Challenging High Court’s Ruling

Background:
  • In 2017, the Allahabad High Court ruled that providing false information pertaining to education qualifications does not interfere with the free exercise of electoral rights of the electors.
  • Recently, the Supreme Court heard a petition challenging this ruling.
Key Points:
  • The petition alleged that the electoral candidate committed a “corrupt practice” under Section 123(2) by not disclosing his liabilities and correct educational qualifications in his affidavit of nomination, which interfered in the free exercise of electoral rights of the voters.
  • It also argued that the candidate committed a “corrupt practice” under Section 123(4) by publishing a false statement of fact about his character and conduct to influence the outcome of his election, knowingly.
  • The Supreme Court declared the petition as “null and void” and stated that providing false information about a candidate’s qualifications cannot be considered a “Corrupt Practice” under Sections 123(2) and Section 123(4) of the RPA, 1951.

Corrupt Practices under the RPA, 1951

Section 123:
  • It defines ‘corrupt practices’ to include bribery, undue influence, false information, and promotion or attempted promotion of “feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes of the citizens of India on grounds of religion, race, caste, community, or language” by a candidate for the furtherance of his prospects in the election.
Section 123 (2):
  • It deals with ‘undue influence’ which it defines as “any direct or indirect interference or attempt to interfere on the part of the candidate or his agent, or of any other person, with the consent of the candidate or his election agent, with the free exercise of any electoral right.”
  • This could also include threats of injury, social ostracism and expulsion from any caste or community.
Section 123 (4):
  • It extends the ambit of “corrupt practices” to the intentional publication of false statements which can prejudice the outcome of the candidate’s election.
  • Under the provisions of the Act, an elected representative can be disqualified if convicted of certain offences; on grounds of corrupt practices; for failing to declare election expenses; and for interests in government contracts or works.

Previous Court Rulings on Corrupt Practices in Elections

Over the years, the Supreme Court has made several rulings regarding corrupt practices in elections in India. Here are some examples:

Abhiram Singh v C.D. Commachen Case:
  • In 2017, the Supreme Court held in the ‘Abhiram Singh v C.D. Commachen’ case that seeking votes in the name of a candidate’s religion, race, caste, community, or language is a corrupt practice under Section 123(3) of the RPA Act, 1951.
  • The court also ruled that any election conducted in such a manner will be annulled.
SR Bommai v. Union of India:
  • In 1994, the Supreme Court’s ruling in the ‘SR Bommai v. Union of India’ case prohibited the encroachment of religion into secular activities, citing subsection (3) of Section 123 of the RPA Act, 1951.
S. Subramaniam Balaji vs State of Tamil Nadu:
  • In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in the ‘S. Subramaniam Balaji vs State of Tamil Nadu’ case that promises of freebies by candidates cannot be considered a corrupt practice.
  • However, in 2022, the court reconsidered its decision and the matter is still under deliberation.

Representation of the People Act 1951: Provisions and Significance

The Representation of the People Act 1951 is a crucial legislation that governs the conduct of elections in India. Here are some of its provisions and significance:

Provisions:
  • It regulates the conduct of elections in the country.
  • It specifies the qualifications and disqualifications for membership of the houses of parliament and state legislatures. • It provides provisions to curb corrupt practices and other offences such as booth capturing, bribery, and promoting enmity.
  •  It lays down the procedure for settling doubts and disputes arising out of elections.
Significance:
  • The act is significant for the smooth functioning of Indian democracy as it prevents people with criminal backgrounds from entering representative bodies, thus decriminalizing Indian politics.
  • It requires every candidate to declare their assets and liabilities, and maintain an account of election expenses, ensuring accountability and transparency of candidates in the use of public funds and prevention of misuse of power for personal benefits.
  • It prohibits corrupt practices, ensuring legitimacy and free and fair conduct of elections, which is essential for the success of any democratic setup.
  • The act mandates that only those political parties registered under Section 29A of the RPA Act, 1951 are eligible to receive electoral bonds, providing a mechanism to track the source of political funding and ensuring transparency in electoral funding.

-Source: Indian Express


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