New Delhi: Days ahead of assembly polls in five states, the Supreme Court has agreed to consider listing for hearing a 2020 PIL for debarring persons against whom charges have been framed in serious offences from contesting elections.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana told petitioner lawyer and BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay that it would consider his plea for urgent hearing of the PIL which has not been listed even once after it was filed in September 2020.
The lawyer has been seeking a hearing on the PIL in view of the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa that will be held between February 10 and March 7 in seven phases with the counting of votes on March 10.
Recently, the apex court has sought responses from the Centre and the Election Commission on another PIL of Upadhyay seeking a direction to seize the symbol or deregister a political party that promises or distributes “irrational freebies” before polls.
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Besides debarring persons against whom charges have been framed in criminal cases, the 2020 PIL also sought a direction to the Centre and the Election Commission of India (ECI) to take steps to restrain such candidates who are put on trial for serious offences.
It claimed that despite recommendations of the Law Commission and the court’s earlier directions, the Centre and the ECI have not taken steps in this regard.
The plea said that out of 539 winners of the Lok Sabha election in 2019, as many as 233 (43%) declared criminal cases against themselves.
The plea, filed through advocate Ashwani Kumar Dubey, added that there was an increase of 109 percent in the number of MPs with declared serious criminal cases since 2009, with one MP declaring 204 criminal cases against himself including cases related to committing culpable homicide, house trespass, robbery, criminal intimidation, etc.
“What is alarming is that the percentage of candidates with criminal antecedents and their chances of winning have actually increased rapidly over the years,” the petition said.
“Criminals who earlier used to help politicians win elections in the hope of getting favours, appear to have cut out the middle-man in favour of entering politics themselves.
”Political parties, in turn, have become steadily more reliant on criminals as candidates ‘self-finance’ their own elections in an era, where election contests have become phenomenally expensive, but also because candidates with criminal antecedents are more likely to win than clean candidates,” it alleged.
It further alleged that political parties are competing with each other in a race to the bottom because they cannot afford to leave their competitors free to recruit criminals.
“The injury caused to people is large because the criminalisation of politics is at an extreme level and political parties are still setting up candidates with serious criminal antecedents. Therefore, voters find it difficult to cast their vote freely and fairly though it is their fundamental right, guaranteed under Article 19,” it said.