Friday, May 3, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Voters should know antecedents of candidates: SC

New Delhi, May 2
In a bid to rid the system of criminals, the Supreme Court today directed the Election Commission (EC) to ask candidates contesting parliamentary or Assembly elections to mandatorily furnish details about their criminal antecedents, if any, to allow voters to think before they make their choice.

“The little man may think over before making his choice of electing law (breakers as law) makers,” said a three-judge Bench comprising Mr Justice M.B. Shah, Mr Justice B.P. Singh and Mr Justice H.K. Sema while directing the EC to pass necessary orders in this regard within two months.

The court directed that the candidates would be required to give details on five counts —

“1. Whether the candidate is convicted or acquitted or discharged of any criminal offence in the past — if any, whether he is punished with imprisonment or fine?

2. Prior to six months of filing of nomination, whether the candidate is accused in any pending case, of any offence punishable with imprisonment for two years or more, and in which charge is framed or cognisance is taken by the court of law, if so details thereof;

3. The assets (immovable, movable, bank balances etc) of a candidate and of his/her spouse and that of dependants;

4. Liabilities, if any, particularly whether there are any overdues of any public financial institution or government dues.

5. The educational qualification of the candidate.”

Recognising the commission’s efforts to meet the situation, the apex court said: “the norms and modalities to carry out and give effect to the aforesaid directions should be drawn up properly by the EC as early as possible and in any case within two months.”

This order was given by the Bench while disposing of an appeal filed by the Centre challenging the sweeping directions given by the Delhi High Court on a petition filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms.

Though the apex court modified the order given by the High Court, it justified them by saying that the directions given by the High Court could not be said to be “unjustified or beyond its jurisdiction”.

The Bench rejected an argument of the Centre that the EC could not be directed by the court to fill in the vacuum in the absence of proper legislation.

Mr Justice Shah, writing for the Bench, said: “The Supreme Court would have ample power to direct the commission to fill the void, in absence of suitable legislation, covering the field and the voters are required to be well-informed and educated about contesting candidates so that they can elect proper candidate by their own assessment.

“It is the duty of the executive to fill the vacuum by executive orders because its field is coterminous with that of the legislature, and where there is inaction by the executive, for whatever reason, the judiciary must step in,” he added.

Mr Justice Shah said the judiciary, in such situations, should step in to discharge its constitutional obligations in providing a solution till the time the legislature acts to perform its role by enacting proper legislation to cover the field.

Justifying the directions, Mr Justice Shah said: “The adverse impact of lack of probity in public life leading to a high degree of corruption is manifold. Therefore, if the candidate is directed to declare his/her spouse’s and dependants’ assets, immovable, moveable and valuable articles, it would have its effect.”

The Bench said if on affidavit a candidate was required to disclose the assets held by him at the time of election, voter could decide whether he or she could be re-elected even in case where he/she had collected tons of money.

Counsel Ashwini Kumar during the arguments had commented that this would not be effective to break the vicious circle of unaccounted money polluting the basic democracy in the country.

Mr Justice Shah, in the 50-page judgement, said: “May be true, still this would have its own effect as a step-in-aid and voters may not elect law-breakers as law-makers and some flowers of democracy may blossom.”

The apex court said to maintain the purity of elections and in particular to bring transparency in the process of elections, the Election Commission could ask the candidates about the expenditure incurred by the political parties. This transparency in the process of election would include transparency of a candidate who seeks election or re-election.

“In a democracy, the electoral process has a strategic role. The little man of this country would have basic elementary right to know full particulars of a candidate who is to represent him in Parliament where laws to bind his liberty and property may be enacted,” Mr Justice Shah reasoned.

The right to get information in a democracy was recognised all throughout and it was natural right flowing from the concept of democracy, he said.

The Bench said: “Under our Constitution, Article 19(1)(a) provides for freedom of speech and expression. Voter’s speech or expression in case of election would include casting of votes, that is to say, voter speaks out or expresses by casting vote.

Mr Justice Shah said the people of the country have a right to know every public act, everything that was done in a public way by the public functionaries. MPs and MLAs were undoubtedly public functionaries, he added. PTI

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