Context:

The Supreme Court warned Parliament that the nation is losing patience with the advent of criminals in politics even as it imposed fines on major political parties for covering up the criminal past of the candidates whom they had fielded in the Bihar Assembly polls in 2020.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Constitution (Representation of People’s Act, Legislature, Important Judgements and Cases)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Criminalization of Politics in India
  2. Judgements regarding Criminalization of Politics
  3. Why are such tainted candidates inducted by political parties?

Criminalization of Politics in India

  • Criminalization of Politics means the participation of criminals in politics which includes that criminals can contest in the elections and get elected as members of the Parliament and the State legislature.
  • Criminalization of politics in India includes political control of the police, state money, corruption, weak laws, lack of ethics, values, vote bank politics and loopholes in the function of the election commission.

Data regarding Criminalization of Politics in India

  • According to a report submitted in the Supreme Court, there are more than 4 thousand cases against the legislators including that of corruption, money laundering, damage to public property, defamation and cheating. The cases were pending in various special courts exclusively set up to try criminal cases registered against politicians.
  • Of the massive 4,442 cases pending against legislators – cases against sitting Members of Parliament and members of State legislatures was more than 2,500.
  • Roughly 46% of Members of Parliament have criminal records. The number might be inflated as many politicians tend to be charged with relatively minor offences —“unlawful assembly” and “defamation”.
  • The real worry is that the current cohort of Lok Sabha MPs has the highest (29%) proportion of those with serious declared criminal cases compared to its recent predecessors.
  • A large number of cases were for violation of Section 188 IPC for wilful disobedience and obstruction of orders promulgated by public servants.
  • There are more than 400 cases in respect of offences, which are punishable with imprisonment for life, out of which in 174 cases sitting MPs/ MLAs are accused.
  • The trial of more than 350 cases had been stayed by High Courts and the apex court.
  • A large number of cases were pending at the appearance stage and even non-bailable warrants (NBWs) issued by courts have not been executed.
  • As per the report, Uttar Pradesh tops the chart when it comes to criminalization of politics.

Judgements regarding Criminalization of Politics

2002 Judgement on disclosure of information relating to criminal antecedents

  • In 2002, the Supreme Court, in Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) v. Union of India, mandated the disclosure of information relating to criminal antecedents, educational qualification, and personal assets of a candidate contesting elections.

2017 Judgement for Fast track courts

  • In November 2017, the Supreme Court had ordered setting-up of Special Courts in each state to try the pending cases. Accordingly, 12 such courts were set up across the country.
  • It was a move that significantly clips the powers of the state governments at a time when the top court has expressed grave concern over the criminalisation of politics.
  • The SC also asked all the high courts to furnish details of posting of judges and the number of pending and disposed cases before them. The SC order said that High court Chief Justices are to constitute Special Benches to monitor the progress of criminal cases against sitting and former legislators.
  • However, several states had withdrawn cases against legislators, under Section 321 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 which allows the public prosecutor or assistant public prosecutor to withdraw from the prosecution of a case at any time before the judgment is pronounced.

2020 Judgement on parties publishing details of criminal cases

  • In February 2020, the SC passed a judgement which required political parties to publish details of criminal cases against its candidates on their websites, a local vernacular newspaper, national newspaper and social media accounts.
  • The order was a reply to the contempt petition about the general disregard shown by political parties to a 2018 Constitution Bench judgment (Public Interest Foundation v. Union of India) to publish the criminal details of their candidates in their respective websites and print as well as electronic media for public awareness.
  • According to the 2020 judgement – the political parties need to additionally offer an explanation as to why candidates with pending criminal cases are selected as candidates in the first place. All this information needs to be published in a local as well as a national newspaper as well as the parties’ social media handles.
  • The SC said that the information is mandatorily to be published either within 48 hours of the selection of candidates or less than two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations, whichever is earlier.
  • Also, the political parties need to submit compliance reports with the Election Commission of India within 72 hours.
  • The judgment is applicable to parties both at Central and State levels.

2021, revisiting progress after the 2020 order

  • The Supreme Court has warned Parliament that the nation is losing patience with the advent of criminals in politics even as it imposed fines on major political parties for covering up from voters the criminal past of the candidates.
  • Cleansing the polluted stream of politics is obviously not one of the immediate pressing concerns of the legislative branch of government.
  • The court said it did not take political parties much time to flout its February 2020 judgment, which had directed them to prominently publish the criminal antecedents.

Why are such tainted candidates inducted by political parties?

  1. Popularity: Such candidates with serious records seem to do well despite their public image, largely due to their ability to finance their own elections and bring substantive resources to their respective parties.
  2. Vested interests: Some voters tend to view such candidates through a narrow prism: of being able to represent their interests by hook or by crook.
  3. Destabilizing other electors: Others do not seek to punish these candidates in instances where they are in contest with other candidates with similar records.
  • The NN Vohra committee’s report on the criminalization of politics discussed how criminal gangs flourish under the care and protection of politicians.
  • Many times the candidates themselves are the gang leaders.
  • This protection is paid back to them during elections through capital investment in election spending and voter support.

-Source: The Hindu

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