Q. Criminalization of politics is proving fatal to the effective working of largest democracy. Discuss the role of Representation of peoples act in curbing the criminal elements and ensuring the free and fair elections.
The proportion of Candidates contesting Parliament or state election, with criminal cases against them stood at 15% in year 2009, and has risen up to 19% in 2019, as reported by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).
Indian law does not bar individuals who have criminal cases pending against them from contesting the elections, those facing trial even for serious crimes find free to contest.
As the Indian judiciary is also already over-burdened and can take years to resolve a case, every political party in the country feels emboldened to unhesitatingly and unashamedly field any number of candidates with a criminal record if their chances of winning are bright.
How criminalisation of Politics affects effective functioning of democracy?
- The ADR analysis shows that candidates facing criminal charges had double the chances of winning as compared to those with a clean record.
- The Voters’ right to choose their representatives, has been reduced to harsh reality.
- The democracy of India would now be in hands of the criminal who are not capable any way to hold the post if legislature.
- Political aspects and criminal elements nexus is dangerous, as Politicians resort to using Muscle power to draw votes, It leads to Institutionalisation of Corruption.
The Representation of peoples act helps in curbing the criminal elements and ensuring the free and fair elections through the following features:
- Section 8 of Representation of Peoples Act 1951, deals with Disqualification of representatives on conviction for certain offences.
- The acts lays down following disqualification provisions for person contesting election:
- He must not have been found guilty of certain election offences or corrupt practices in the elections.
- He must not have been convicted for any offence resulting in imprisonment for two or more years.
- He must not have failed to lodge an account of his election expenses within the time.
- He must not have been dismissed from government service for corruption or disloyalty to the State.
- He must not have been convicted for promoting enmity between different groups or for the offence of bribery.
- He must not have been punished for preaching and practising social crimes such as untouchability, dowry and sati.
The Courts in India have strengthened the RPA provisions with the following landmark Judgements:
- On a petition filed by Lily Thomas and Lok Prahari NGO, where ADR also intervened, the Supreme Court stated that if a sitting MP/MLA is convicted (not only charged) then he/ she would be disqualified immediately and the seat would be declared as vacant, setting aside the Clause 8(4) of the Representation of People Act. The Clause 8(4) had provided special privilege to MPs/MLAs to hold the office even after conviction if an appeal has been filed in a higher court within the span of 3 months.
- The Supreme court has recommended setting a deadline for the lower courts to complete trial of cases involving lawmakers.
- On a petition filed by ADR, the Delhi High Court issued notices to the Government of India and the Election Commission to monitor election expenditure of political parties.
The Election commission too has taken steps to Decriminalise Politics in India:
- EC effectively implements the Model Code of Conduct.
- EC has made declaration of Income tax returns for five years, declaration of foreign assets, PAN Mandatory for candidates contesting elections.
Despite these provisions in RPA, Criminalisation of Politics hasn’t reduced. Hence, the Supreme court recently left it to the Parliament to ”cure the malignancy” by making a law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter the political arena