The Supreme Court on Tuesday held that all candidates will have to declare their criminal antecedents to the Election Commission before contesting an election, saying criminalisation of politics of the largest democracy is "unsettling".
A five-judge Constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, said that citizens have a right to be informed about the antecedents of their candidates.
In the unanimous verdict, the bench, also comprising Justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, said that political parties are obligated to put all the information about their candidates on their websites.
It asked the legislature to consider framing a law to ensure decriminalisation of politics. The bench said that informed choice is the corner stone of democracy and termed criminalisation of politics of the largest democracy as "unsettling".
The apex court favoured wider publicity, through print and electronic media about the antecedents of candidates affiliated to political parties.
The verdict was pronounced on a batch of pleas raising a question whether lawmakers facing criminal trial can be disqualified from contesting elections at the stage of framing of charges against them. The status before the filing of these petitions was that lawmakers were barred under the Representation of Peoples (RP) Act from contesting elections only after their conviction in a criminal case.
The verdict was reserved on August 28.
Here are the Highlights of the SC judgment:
#SC directs that each candidate shall declare his/her criminal antecedents to the Election Commission before contesting an election.
#SC says that citizens have right to be informed about the antecedents of their candidates.
#Political parties shall be obligated to put all information about their candidates on their websites: SC
#SC also directs wider publicity, through print and electronic media, antecedents of candidates affiliated to political parties.
#SC asks legislature to consider framing law to ensure decriminalisation of politics.
#Informed choice is corner stone of democracy, says SC and terms criminalisation of politics of the largest democracy as unsettling.
The bench earlier, during the course of hearing, had clarified that a law could not be laid down to bar such politicians from contesting elections.
"Right to information (about the criminal antecedents of the candidates) means right to proper information," Chief Justice Dipak Misra had said.
The court in the course of the hearing had asked whether it could direct the Election Commission to include in the symbol order a clause that a political party is liable to lose its recognition if it fields candidates accused of heinous crimes.
The court had indicated that it could take recourse to right to information to pass directions about the dissemination of information about the antecedents of a candidate, which would help voters make an informed choice at the polling booth.
A recommendation to eject a candidate from electoral fray after the framing of the charges in heinous cases was made by the Election Commission in 1997. The recommendation was reiterated in 1999, but nothing changed.
The PIL petitioner, NGO Public Interest Foundation, had sought barring politicians who were charge-sheeted in heinous crimes from the electoral fray.
The petitioner had also contended that parliament with 34 per cent lawmakers with criminal background will never act to cleanse the electoral politics.