Friday, March 14, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

SC: poll reforms law unconstitutional
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 13
The Supreme Court today declared the electoral reforms law as unconstitutional and restored its earlier order making it mandatory for the candidates to declare their criminal antecedents, assets and liabilities and educational qualifications at the time of filing nomination papers.

“Voters have a fundamental right to know about the criminal antecedence of their candidates. There is no scope for interpreting this right since it was a constitutional one and not statutory,” the apex court held, while striking down a provision of the Representation of People (Amendment) Act, 2002, enacted after all-party consensus.

“The legislature cannot declare that the law declared by the Supreme Court is not binding,” observed the three-judge Bench, who held that the law enacted by Parliament curtailed the right to information of the people vital to choosing proper candidate to the legislature.

The court, after quashing the amendment to the Representation of People Act, directed the Election Commission to issue a fresh notification for implementation of today’s judgement. It would be applicable prospectively and not retrospectively, the Bench said.

The Bench comprising Mr Justice M.B. Shah, Mr Justice P.V. Reddi and Mr Justice D.M. Dharmadhikari in separate but concurrent judgements held that right to information of the voter was vitally linked to their right to freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution and the amendment to the Representation of People Act curtailed it.

Justice Shah, in his order, asked was there any necessity to keep the voters in dark about the murder, dacoity or rape committed by a candidate or about his ill-gotten money which could be used for elections.

The Judge said the May 2 order was aimed at “cleansing the democracy of unwanted elements and give the country a competent legislature.”

The law, enacted after an all-party consensus, attempted to dilute the May, 2002, order of the Supreme Court and stipulated that candidates have to give details of criminal cases in which cognisance had been taken by the court.

The law also said only elected candidates were required to give details of their assets and liabilities but did not make any provision for declaring their educational qualifications.

There had been substantial departure from the directions of the court in the new legislation, the court observed and added that Section 33 (B) did not pass the test of constitutionality as it imposed a blanket ban on the information to be given to the voters.

Terming the enactment of the electoral reforms law by the government as a “half-hearted attempt” to fight the use of money and muscle power in elections, the apex court said its order of May 2 last year has attained finality.

This judgement came on petitions filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Lok Satta and the Association for Democratic Reforms which challenged the constitutional validity of the Electoral Reforms Ordinance issued by the government last year.

With today’s judgement, the candidates now have to mandatorily furnish following information on affidavit while filing nomination:-

1. Whether the candidate is convicted/acquitted/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 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, the 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 institutions or government dues.


Govt hints at all-party meet

New Delhi, March 13
The government today indicated convening of an all-party meet to discuss the situation arising out of Supreme Court declaring the controversial electoral reforms law as unconstitutional.

The legislation, passed by Parliament, was on the basis of a consensus and a similar exercise will have to be undertaken to react to the situation, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told reporters. PTI


Ruling will cleanse poll process: EC
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 13
Welcoming the Supreme Court judgement on electoral reforms, the Election Commission today hoped that it would pave the way for “cleansing” the electoral process.

“We will be able to give our formal comment after seeing the judgement. But as of now, we welcome it,” Election Commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy said reacting to the apex court’s ruling declaring as unconstitutional the controversial electoral reforms law and upholding its earlier judgement.

“We do sincerely hope that this judgement will pave the way for cleansing the electoral process,” he said.


Parties react cautiously to SC verdict
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 13
Political parties, except the CPI (M), today reacted cautiously to the Supreme Court judgement that struck down last year’s electoral law amendment.

While the CPI-M said it did not agree with the apex court directive saying it “would not solve the problem”, the BJP favoured an all-party meeting to discuss and arrive at a decision on the Supreme Court verdict. The political parties in general, however, agreed with the Supreme Court that their is need for checking criminalisation of politics and bringing transparency in elections.

Congress leader Oscar Fernandes said there was need for transparency and that making reforms in the law was the job of Parliament and the Supreme Court was free to pass judgement on these laws and interpret them.

Ms Ambika Soni, political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, said her party “fully supported” the court order as it would help in transparency in politics.

While BJP spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the life of people in politics should be like an open book, his senior colleague and Parliamentary Party Spokesperson V.K. Malhotra was of the view that any decision should be taken unanimously at an all-party meeting.

Mr Malhotra said his party supported the view that criminals should be prevented from contesting elections. “Therefore we will see all clauses of the court judgement, discuss them, see on which clauses there is objection and after that take a decision,” he said.

While making it clear that there should be no confrontation between the Parliament and the Supreme Court on the issue, Mr Malhotra said the Constitution was very clear on the institutions having legislative powers and executive powers. As of now, Parliament was responsible for making legislations, while the Supreme Court was empowered to interpret them and ensure its implementation, he said adding that the legislation was passed by Parliament with near consensus and striking down some of the clauses of the Representation of People’s Act by the Supreme Court had in fact thrown a challenge to Parliament and its powers.

The CPI (M) politburo member, Mr Prakash Karat, however disagreed with the court’s view saying “it would not solve the problem.” “The law was amended after thorough discussion among political parties. We found it to be the most appropriate way to deal with the issue,” Mr Karat said.

Welcoming the court decision, RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh favoured any action which ends criminalisation in politics, muscle and money power.

Samajwadi Party leader Ramji Lal Suman said all political parties had together decided what to do while filing the nomination papers and the court’s judgement should again be discussed by the parties. He suggested that the government should take initiative and invite an all-party meeting to discuss the issue.

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