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Posted at: Feb 13, 2018, 1:51 AM; last updated: Feb 13, 2018, 1:13 PM (IST)

CJI: How can convicted politician head a party?

Centre asked to spell out stand, final hearing on March 26
CJI: How can convicted politician head a party?

Satya Prakash

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 12

Raising questions over politicians convicted of crime and corruption heading political parties and selecting candidates for the Parliamentary and Assembly polls, the Supreme Court on Monday said it went against the basic spirit of democracy.

“If a convicted person cannot contest an election, how can he head a political party and select candidates to contest the elections?” wondered a three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra which is seized of a PIL seeking lifetime ban on convicted politicians from contesting polls and holding any party position.

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Drawing a distinction between politics and other activities, the Bench, also comprising Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud, said the practice of convicted individuals running political parties went against its judgments that stated corruption in politics has to be banished for the purity of electoral process.

“A (convicted) man cannot directly contest an election, so he forms a political party and fields candidates to contest an election. People can form an association to do philanthropic work such as opening a hospital or a school….But when it comes to the field of governance, it is different…,” said the Bench.

If the SC finally allows the prayer sought by the petitioner, convicted politicians such as Om Prakash Chautala and Lalu Prasad would no longer be in a position to hold any position in the INLD and the RJD, respectively.

On behalf of the Centre, Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand said the government would need some time to spell out its stand.

The Bench asked the Centre to respond to the PIL filed by BJP leader advocate Ashwani Kumar Upadhyay and posted it for the final hearing on March 26.

The SC had on December 1 last year issued notices to the Centre and Election Commission on the PIL filed by the BJP leader who had named several politicians who were wielding political power despite being convicted or charges having been framed against them.

Upadhyay had pointed out that the law debarred convicted politicians from contesting elections but they were free to run a political party; hold party posts and decide who could contest polls to become MPs/MLAs.

Even persons convicted of heinous crimes such as murder, rape, smuggling, money laundering, sedition or dacoity could form a political party and become its president, Upadhyay alleged.

Citing the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC), the petitioner asked the court to direct the Centre and the EC to frame guidelines to de-criminalise electoral system and ensure inner-party democracy.

In its reply to the PIL, the EC has sought power to de-register erring political parties which often undue benefit of a legislative vacuum in this regard.

“It is unequivocally submitted that the EC should be given powers to de-register a political party and, further, should be authorized to issue necessary orders regulating registration and de-registration of political parties, particularly in view of its constitutional mandate,” said the poll panel.

The EC said, “In fact there is no explicit provision in the Representation of the People Act, 1951m for de-registration of a political party registered under Section 29A.” However, it said it has de-listed/deleted 255 political parties from its records after conducting a verification exercise between February and December 2016 of political parties which did not field any candidates in the elections held during 2005 and 2015.

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