EC in favour of barring candidates with criminal background

The Election Commission (EC) has told the Supreme Court (SC) that it was in favour of barring candidates charged by a court with an offence punishable with five and more years, from contesting elections.

In a bid to rule out the possibility of politically motivated cases keeping candidates out of the electoral fray, the EC said charges needed to be framed by a court at least five months before the announcement of election dates.

In an affidavit submitted to a bench headed by Justice R M Lodha, the commission said its proposal to bar candidates was based on the fact that charges were framed by a court after due application of mind as also prima facie appraisal of the evidence on record.

The proposal was submitted to the government in 1998 but it had to act on it yet.

The EC had proposed the measure for reform of the electoral process and to decrimininalise politics. The EC said, "To prevent persons with criminal background from becoming legislators, the commission has made a proposal for disqualifying (from contesting an election) a person against whom charges have been framed by a court for an offence punishable by imprisonment of five years or more."

The panel further added, "as a precaution against foisting false cases on the eve of election, it has been suggested that only those cases in which charges are framed six months prior to an election should be taken into account for that election".

The Supreme Court is hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by an NGO, Public Interest Foundation, seeking direction to ban persons charged with a criminal offence from fighting elections.

Since last July, the SC has passed a series of orders on electoral reform, including one for immediate disqualification of an MP or MLA on conviction in a criminal case (See: Convicted legislators must lose seats, iterates SC).

The apex court further added, freebies promised in manifestos vitiated poll process and asked EC to consult parties and frame guidelines for its regulation (See: SC tells Election Commission to end freebies promised during polls).

The SC also empowered voters by giving 'none of the above' (NOTA) option in EVMs (See: Put 'reject all' button on voting machines, SC tells poll panel).

The stance of the EC is at variance with that of the UPA government, which had rejected its proposal. Rejecting the contention of the centre that a proposal of the type could lead to filing of motivated cases against political rivals, the EC stated: ''…the above apprehension is misplaced and the judicial system of the country cannot be decried.''