Relief to jailed politicians: SC upholds their right to contest polls for now

The Supreme Court today gave Indian politicians jailed on criminal charges some reason to cheer, as it ruled that persons in jail or police custody can contest elections – at least for now.

Supreme CourtA bench of Justices A K Patnaik and S J Mukhopadhyay gave temporary approval to the amendment to the Representation of the People's Act brought about by the union government on 7 September. The amendment was brought about to negate a ruling by the apex court on 10 July barring convicted persons from contesting elections.

Dismissing a plea by the government seeking review of its July judgement, the Supreme Court said it is not necessary to look into the issue in view of amendment in laws by Parliament. It however added that the constitutional validity of the amendment will be considered separately.

Today's ruling came on a petition by social organisation Lok Prahri opposing the centre's review petition of the apex court's earlier ruling.

The amendment to the Representation Act was brought about to negate the apex court's July order, which held that those in jail cannot vote as per a clause in the law and hence cannot be qualified to contest polls to parliament or state legislatures. The centre had removed the clause through the amendment.

"The review plea filed by the Centre has thus become infructuous," the bench said while disposing of a petition filed by the Centre seeking recall of the July order.

The court, however, said the issue of constitutional validity of the amendment will be considered separately.

The union government pleaded that the ruling raised the question of misuse by political opponents as it disqualifies anyone in jail, except those in preventive detention from contesting in the elections.

"If a person cannot vote, he cannot contest," the court had said. The political class feared that the judgement could be misused to slap cases against opponents in the run-up to the elections.

Today, the bench observed, "As a consequence of amendment a person does not cease to be elector only by reason of his being in police custody or in imprisonment. Therefore, he can contest election to state legislature as well as Parliament."

There are some issues on which India's normally fractious political parties unite. The Representation of the People (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2013 was rushed through in the Lok Sabha and passed within about 15 minutes after a brief discussion. The bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha on 27 August.

The Amendment Bill seeks to add a proviso to sub-section (2) of section 62 of the RP Act to state that a person cannot cease to be a voter while in detention as his or her right is only temporarily suspended.