Decriminalisation of polity: ‘Nothing is ever done and nothing will ever be done’: SC

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New Delhi, Jul 20 (PTI) “Nothing is ever done and nothing will ever be done and we have to put our hands up,” observed the Supreme Court on Tuesday while ruing over the non-compliance of its directions aimed at decriminalising the polity in “letter and spirit” by political parties.

The remarks of the apex court came while reserving its verdict after hearing arguments on a plea seeking contempt action against several political parties including BJP and Indian National Congress for non-compliance of its directions of February 13, 2020 during Bihar assembly polls.

A bench headed by Justice R F Nariman had said that “the political parties were to publish the criminal antecedents of their selected candidates within 48 hours of their selection or not less than two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations, whichever is earlier.” Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the poll panel, elaborated on the specifics of non-compliance of apex court’s directions.

He said in Bihar assembly polls, the filing of nomination papers for first phase commenced on October 1, 2020 and the political parties mostly finalised their candidates very late.

This led to filing of nominations by candidates in the last few days and hence, the apex court’s directions to decide candidates two weeks before the nomination and disclosing their criminal records, if any, were not complied with, he said.

He also referred to the figure and said 469 candidates, having criminal antecedents, were fielded by 10 political parties in recently held Bihar assembly polls.

While the submission was being made, the bench, also comprising Justice B R Gavai expressed its displeasure over the non-compliance of its directives on decriminalisation of politics.

“Nothing is ever done and nothing will ever be done. We have to put our hands up,” the bench observed.

This led senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Nationalist Congress Party, to urge the bench to enter into the legislative domain to set the house in order.

Sibal referred to Article 324 (superintendence, direction and control of elections to be vested in an Election Commission) of the Constitution and rued the fact that political parties are flouting the poll panel and its directives.

“When directions are issued, candidates, parties do not follow them. Parties show contempt for them. Parties which openly disregard should face consequences. Question arises as to what the consequences should be and who should set the house in order,” Sibal said.

Responding to the submission, the bench said “How do we implement this? A five-judge constitution bench (judgement) says that we cannot do this.. Would this not amount to entering the domain of legislature.” The bench further said it may consider the suggestion to refer the case to a seven-judge bench.

The NCP along with Communist Party have been in complete defiance of the apex court’s directives during Bihar polls, the election commission submitted.

Senior advocate Harish Salve , also appearing for the poll panel, advocated the graded approach to rein in political parties saying the winnability seemed to be the criteria and this malady is afflicting all the political parties.

“There is a larger concern also with too many parties being thrown out of the arena. It has come step by step, but the value system needs to be shoved down the throat,” he said.

“ In India, Mr Palkhivala had once also said ‘We do the right thing after exhausting all our options’,” the senior lawyer said evoking reaction from Justice Nariman that “We do not do the right thing, we stumble upon it.” The court was suggested that that heavy fines be imposed on political parties and fund be created for the poll panel to make citizens aware of their electoral rights.

Earlier, the top court had issued a slew of directions including asking political parties to upload on their websites and social media platforms the details of pending criminal cases against their candidates and the reasons for selecting them as also for not giving ticket to those without criminal antecedents.

It had said these details should be published within 48 hours of the selection of the candidate or at least two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations, whichever is earlier.

The details should also be published on official social media platforms of the political parties, including Facebook and Twitter, and also in one local vernacular and one national newspaper, the apex court had also directed.

The reasons for selecting candidates having pending criminal cases should be with reference to their qualifications, achievements and merit and not merely on 'winnability' at the polls, it had said.

In September 2018, a five-judge Constitution bench had unanimously held that all candidates will have to declare their criminal antecedents to the Election Commission before contesting polls and called for a wider publicity, through print and electronic media about antecedents of candidates. PTI SJK ABA MNL SJK RKS RKS

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