SC paves way for decriminalization of politics; modifies previous order

With the objective of decriminalization of politics, the Supreme Court on Tuesday directed that the political parties must publish the criminal antecedents, in any, of the candidates within 48 hours of their selection.

A bench comprising Justices RF Nariman and BR Gavai modified the direction in its February 13, 2020 judgment in that regard.

In paragraph 4.4 of the February 2020 judgment, the Supreme Court had ordered that the details shall be published within 48 hours of the selection of the candidate or not less than two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations, whichever is earlier.

Today, the bench said that it has changed paragraph 4.4 of the said judgment and made it as publication within 48 hours. The bench has also passed certain additional directions, which will be known when the full copy of the judgment is uploaded.

The bench was delivering its verdict in the in contempt petitions filed alleging failure to publish criminal antecedents of candidates in the Bihar Assembly elections held in November 2020.

The observations were made in the backdrop of a contempt petition filed by Advocate Brajesh Singh that was reserved for Judgment on July 20, 2021.

Singh in his plea claimed to be aggrieved by the conduct of the respondents during the Bihar Legislative Assembly Election of 2020, alleging wilful disobedience of the Court’s judgment of February 13, 2020.

In the said judgment, it was held it shall be mandatory for political parties at the Central and state election level to upload on the website detailed information regarding individuals with pending criminal cases (including the nature of the offences and the relevant particulars such as whether charges have been framed, the concerned court, the case number etc) who have been selected as candidates, along with the reasons for such selection, as also as to why other individuals without criminal incidents could not be selected as candidates.

Also, such details must be published in the social media platforms of the political parties, including Facebook and Twitter and also in one local vernacular newspaper and one national newspaper.

The matter was primarily heard on the question of the invocation by the ECI of its power to suspend or withdraw recognition of a recognized political party for its failure to observe Model Code of Conduct or follow lawful directions and instructions of the Commission (under Paragraph 16A of the Symbols Order).

On February 11, 2021, the Apex Court had issued notice to Sunil Arora, Chief Electoral Officer for Bihar, HR Srinivas, JDU general secretary, KC Tyagi, Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Bihar president, Jagdanand Singh, Lok JanShakti Party Leader, Abdul Khalik, Congress party leader, R.S Surjewala and BL Santosh of the BJP.

The petitioner had stated that after the ECI announced the poll scheduled for the Legislative Assembly of Bihar, all the prominent political parties of Bihar started publication of criminal antecedents of its candidates from October 7, 2020 in one particular newspaper, which was not a “widely circulated newspaper” as envisaged by the SC.

The petition further stated that even though the Top Court had said that the political party must describe the reasons as to why a person with criminal antecedents was selected with reference to the qualifications, achievements and merit and not mere winnability, some parties had given the reason of “popularity” and “probability of winning” for choosing persons with criminal background.

In this context, the plea had sought contempt proceedings against the alleged contemners for willfully and deliberately disobeying the directions passed by Supreme Court in the order of February 13, 2020 and pass direction to the political parties for giving cogent reasons, “specifically in the case where the convicted henchmans’ blood relatives are contesting election as proxy, in these situations, the concerned political parties must be compelled to put the information in public domain regarding blood relation with the so-called henchman’s who are ensuring their victories while sitting behind such candidates”.

The matter was reserved for judgment on July 20, 2021.