Bill to bar tainted from polls gathers dust

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Times of India, December 09, 2014

Politicians are unanimous on stringent enforcement of laws related to crime against women. But they are showing no haste in bringing a law to debar them from contesting elections where charges have been framed against them in heinous crimes?many of them against women.

This has resulted in the Narendra Modi government deferring a draft bill ? an amendment in the Representation of People Act – that proposes to disqualify a candidate from contesting elections if a chargesheet has been filed against him for any crime where the prison term is not less than seven years. The draft bill proposes such politicians shall remain disqualified from contesting polls till his acquittal or six years after serving the prison term, which takes the minimum disqualification period to 13 years.

The proposed changes in the draft RP Act (amendment) Bill was, in fact, ready during the previous UPA regime but could not be tabled in Parliament for lack of consensus among leading political parties. As of now, there is no restriction on a candidate facing criminal charges to contest elections unless he has been convicted.

An analysis of affidavits submitted by the winners of 2014 Lok Sabha elections reveals 185 MPs in the current Lok Sabha (LS) have declared criminal cases against themselves. This is almost 34% of total LS MPs, compared to 30% in the previous Lok Sabha. The analysis was carried out by the Association for Democratic Reforms based on affidavits submitted by candidates to the Election Commission (EC).

About 21%, or 112 MPs in the LS have reported serious criminal cases against themselves, including charges of murder, kidnapping and crimes against women etc. This was only 15% in the previous LS. Two of these MPs have reported cases related to crimes against women related to kidnapping, abducting or inducing to compel her marriage, etc. (IPC Section-366).

Sources in the law ministry said the draft legislation was ready with a few more changes incorporated after the NDA government took charge in May. The law ministry had finalized the draft bill after consultation with the law commission and suggestions received from the EC.

Earlier, the government was keen on bringing the proposed legislation decriminalizing politics during the winter session but considering some other contentious bills such as the insurance laws amendment bill and the goods and services tax bill requiring opposition’s support, the Modi government decided to hold the draft RP Act amendment bill in abeyance.

The issue of decriminalization of politics had assumed significance in view of a Supreme Court Constitution bench judgment on August 27 where it left to the wisdom of the Prime Minister and chief ministers to drop criminal elements from council of ministers.

However, the apex court had observed that once charges are framed against a lawmaker, it becomes a judicial act and should not be treated same as the lodging of an FIR by police. Though SC did not pass an order on disqualification of chargesheeted lawmakers, there was a thinking within the government to bring an enabling legislation in the winter session to debar all chargesheeted MPs/MLAs or any other candidate from contesting elections.

The law ministry had even introduced a safeguard in the proposed amendment bill that clarified that the chargesheet has to be filed at least 180 days prior to the notification of the poll for a candidate, against whom charges have been framed, to be disqualified.

The proposed amendments also for the first time provided that on furnishing of a false affidavit before the EC ? which is mandatory for every contestant?a politician shall stand disqualified from his seat and subsequently debarred from contesting any election for a period which shall be the term of the sentence and six years thereafter.

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