Stop dithering over poll reforms, SC tells government

The Supreme Court on Monday urged the government to clarify its stand on the issue of barring those charged with criminal offences from contesting polls, saying there should not be any "irritant" if the government wanted purity in electoral process and was willing to "strengthen democracy".

Supreme Court A bench headed by Justice R M Lodha turned down a contention by the union government that it has to wait till a consensus was formed among all political parties on the subject, particularly after a Parliamentary Standing Committee has also opined against barring candidates from running for political offices at the stage of charges.

"There are just five-six months before elections. How do we strengthen parliamentary democracy? We can't forfeit ground reality," Justice Lodha said, urging the government to take a stand on the issue.

"The first question is whether the executive has accepted the view of the Standing Committee or not. The committee's view is not Parliament's view. The government does not always accept Standing Committee's view so we need to know how the government has reacted to the committee's opinion," the bench told additional solicitor general Paras Kuhad.

Kuhad had informed the court that the Standing Committee had already examined the matter and the government had referred the issue to the Law Commission for a further scrutiny as the law and home ministries' views were different.

While the law ministry contemplates a proposal to bar persons from contesting polls if charges have been framed against them for heinous crimes carrying a sentence of at least seven years, the home ministry opposes any restraint before conviction.

The Election Commission, in its latest affidavit, has told the apex court it favours banning candidates if charges can fetch at least five years' jail term.

"Why cannot there be a collaborative effort by the EC and the Union of India? If everyone wants purity in election, what is the irritant? Ultimately the whole idea is to strengthen the democracy and if it can be strengthened by taking some steps, all the stakeholders should cooperate," said the bench.

The court then asked the additional solicitor general (ASG) to adduce the terms of reference sent to the Law Commission within two weeks, saying it would like to see what have been sent to the commission and if the bench could ask it to speed up its examination of the matter.

It told the ASG that the court was open to issue necessary directions but it would prefer government taking a proactive role after taking a "firm" view of the issue and not merely relying on the Standing Committee's opinion or waiting for the Law Commission to propose recommendations.