Nov 4, 2011, 03.51AM IST TNN[ Dhananjay Mahapatra ]
NEW DELHI: The government is proposing radical reforms to ensure decriminalization of politics and intends to table a bill in the winter session of Parliament proposing to debar candidates facing trial in serious and heinous offences. At present, under the Representation of People Act, only persons convicted by a trial court and sentenced to more than two years imprisonment are debarred from elections for a period of six years, which commences from the date of completion of the prison term. This allows persons facing multiple murder charges to contest elections. Moreover, even if a sitting MP or an MLA is convicted of an offence and sentenced to more than two years jail midway through his term, he continues to be a people’s representative and can attend Parliament or assembly if he files an appeal in the higher court and gets a stay on the conviction. The proposed legislation, first reported by TOI on June 17, is going to be strict on such exigencies and says those who are chargesheeted by police, CBI or other investigating agencies for murder, acts of terrorism, rape, dacoity and similar serious and heinous offences would be debarred from contesting elections till the trial court acquits them. The legislation is part of the larger bouquet of anti-corruption measures government has embarked upon to blunt the attacks it has faced from Team Anna as well as political opponents over the issue of corruption. Government plans to pass three legislations: Lokpal Bill, Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill and Whistleblowers Protection Bill in the winter session. Besides, it has also planned to introduce Grievance Redressal Bill which, while ensuring smooth delivery of services, will also tackle corruption in providing the same. Conceived as an alternative to Team Anna’s insistence that the proposed Lokpal should be tasked with tackling corruption among lower bureaucracy as well, the Grievance Redressal Bill is being projected as a better way of fighting “cutting edge graft”. Government sources point out that under the Lokpal bill, failure to deliver a service is proposed to be treated as an act of corruption. They say this could only delay the delivery of government services since establishing a criminal charge could take time. As against this, the Grievances Redressal Bill provides to separate corruption from failure to deliver a public service/good and, thus ensuring that the grievance for the failure of delivery of service is redressed within a fortnight. During the discussion on stricter measures to decriminalize politics last week in the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs, law minister Salman Khurshid argued strongly for the bill. These proposals on electoral reforms were firmed up during the tenure of Khurshid’s predecessor M Veerappa Moily, who had constituted a Committee on Electoral Reforms to recommend to the government concrete ways in which the electoral system could be strengthened through legislative means. Khurshid also laid stress on amending the existing provisions of RP Act to make filing of false affidavits by candidates along with nomination papers to declare their assets and criminal antecedents a serious offence which could attract a permanent ban on contesting elections. By this way, disclosure of criminal background would be made non-negotiable.
It means, if a candidate deliberately conceals his criminal antecedents and is found guilty, then he will be forced to abandon a career in electoral politics. The proposed amendments, discussed in the CCPA, also include withdrawing immunity to sitting MPs and MLAs from continuing with their tenure after being held guilty and sentenced to more than two years imprisonment even if they get the conviction stayed by a higher court on appeal. By this, the government intends to force an elected representative to resign from his membership from Parliament or assembly the moment a trial court finds him guilty of an offence and sentences him to more than two years imprisonment.
A public interest litigation petition filed in the Supreme Court by members of the India Rejuvenation Initiative, for fast-tracking criminal cases pending against MPs and MLAs, said: “Given a situation in which ‘winnability’ is the sole criterion for selection of candidates and those with deep pockets alone can hope to win elections, a criminal who has amassed money and influence through a ‘mix of terror and patronage’, has greater chances of winning than a clean and decent individual without such’ capabilities’. And most often criminals do win, which is why they are increasingly present in the country’s representative institutions.” The consequences of this trend “are seen in the increasing criminalisation of the process of governance with ministers, legislators, bureaucrats and unscrupulous businessmen combining to plunder public funds and prey on the public.” Criminal cases against politicians pending before courts either for trial or in appeal must be disposed of speedily, if necessary, by appointing special courts, the petition said. A Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and Jasti Chelameswar issued notice to the Centre, all States and the Election Commission after hearing senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan.
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