Petition Seeking Appropriate Directions for Combating the Criminalization of Politics
Public Interest Foundation, Common Cause and two others filed this PIL for debarring persons charged with serious criminal offences from contesting elections and expediting the disposal of pending criminal cases involving members of Parliament and state legislatures. The petition also challenged the constitutional validity of Sec. 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which provided that in the event of conviction of a sitting member the ensuing disqualification would be stayed if an appeal was filed within 3 months. The UOI filed its response in October 2013.Taking shelter behind the Parliamentary Standing Committee’s rejection of the ECI’s recommendation for disqualification of persons charged with serious criminal offences, the government claimed that the issue of electoral reforms stood referred in its entirety to the Law Commission for consideration and examination. The Court thereupon posed two questions to the Law Commission: first, whether, in addition to conviction, filing of a charge-sheet with allegations of commission of a serious offence should result in disqualification; second, whether filing of a false affidavit by a candidate under Section 125 A of the Representation of the People Act should be a ground for disqualification.
After considering the response of the Law Commission, the Court passed an interim order on March 10, 2014 to the effect that trials in criminal cases against lawmakers must be concluded within a year of the charges being framed. The Court also directed that trials must be conducted on a day-to-day basis, and if a lower court was unable to complete the trial within a year, it would have to submit an explanation to the Chief Justice of the High Court concerned and seek an extension of the time limit.
At the hearing on February 17, 2015, the petitioners pressed for the effective implementation of the Court's landmark order of March 10, 2014 for time-bound disposal of pending criminal cases against sitting legislators. The Court was informed that the lead petition had requested the Registrars of the Supreme Court and the High Courts in June 2014 to lay down appropriate procedures and regulations with an in-built monitoring mechanism to ensure compliance of the Court's order by all the subordinate courts under their jurisdiction. Regrettably, these letters did not elicit any response. The Court was urged to put in place an effective monitoring mechanism to ensure the implementation of its order which can go a long way in combating the scourge of criminalisation of politics in India.
As regards the prayer for debarring persons charged with the commission of serious offences from contesting the elections, the Court seemed disinclined to assume the legislative role of Parliament. The arguments in the matter are continuing.
In the hearing on March 8, 2016, the matter was referred to a Constitution Bench.
Several correspondences as well as RTI applications filed by the petitioners revealed that the March 2014 order had not been implemented. Hence, Common Cause along with PIF recently approached the Apex Court through an interim application praying for urgent implementation of its order dated March 10, 2014.