New Delhi: The common man in India is bogged down by corruption and there is a need to fix accountability at all levels, the Supreme Court observed on Friday as it dealt with a petition seeking debarment of those against whom charges have been framed in criminal cases from contesting elections. The top court said India will have to go back to its core values and character if it has to truly become what it is striving for.
”The common man in India is bogged down by corruption. Go to any government office, you cannot come out unscathed. Noted jurist Nani Palkhivala in his book ‘We the People’ has spoken about this. If we have to truly become a nation we are striving for, we need to come back to our core values and character. If we get back to our values, we will have a nation we strive for,” Justice K M Joseph said while hearing the plea with Justice B V Nagarathna.
Advocate Ashwini Updhyay, who has filed the PIL, said a person against whom charges have been framed in heinous offence cannot become even a sweeper in a government office or a police constable but the same person can become a minister even if he has been booked for offences like extortion, kidnapping and murder.
Justice Joseph said he would prefer not to say anything on what is happening in the name of democracy. ”I will not make any comments. There is a constitution bench judgement on this issue and the court has held that it cannot add anything to the law, apart from what is added and it is up to the government to look into it,” he said.
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Justice Nagarathna said there is need to fix accountability at all levels.
Advocate Amit Sharma, appearing for the Election Commission of India said the poll panel has already expressed concern over criminalisation of politics and, under the existing law, a person is debarred from contesting elections if he has been convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years. The person shall be disqualified for the period of sentence and a further six years after release.
”This plea seeks to debar a person from contesting the election at the stage of framing of charges…Our stand is that it is upto the Parliament to take a call on it,” he said.
The counsel appearing for the Centre said he requires time to file a reply to the PIL. Upadhyay said since the PIL raises an important issue, a shorter time should be given to the Centre and the Election Commission of India to file their responses. He said even a person visiting a government office for death or birth certificate has to deal with corruption.
”If one needs to indulge in corruption, there are always ways and means for it. We need to be humble and go back to our core values and character,” Justice Joseph said. ”Basically, the country needs teachers who are nation builders,” Justice Nagarathna added.
Upadhyay said he has filed another PIL seeking linking of property to Aadhaar number to deal with corruption. ”According to me, 80 per cent of people in the country do not have Rs 500 or Rs 2,000 currency notes and those 20 per cent who have use debit cards or credit cards. There is a need for complete ‘note bandi’ (demonetization) and not ‘note badli’ (currency exchange),” he said.
Upadhyay said demonetisation should be like it happened during the Janata Party rule in 1978, when all high denomination bank notes ceased to be legal tender, and not like in 2016 when only Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denomination notes were scrapped and new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 currency notes were introduced.
The bench posted the matter for final hearing on April 10 and asked the Centre and the poll panel to file their replies within three weeks. On September 28, the top court had agreed to examine the plea and sought responses from the Centre and the Election Commission.
The plea said out of 539 winners of the Lok Sabha election in 2019, as many as 233 (43 per cent) had declared criminal cases against themselves.
Highlighting statistics from the report of NGO Association for Democratic Reforms, the petition said there was an increase of 109 per cent in the number of MPs with declared serious criminal cases since 2009, with one MP declaring 204 criminal cases against himself including those related to culpable homicide, house trespass, robbery, criminal intimidation, etc.