The Supreme Court sought responses from the Centre and the Election Commission on a plea to debar persons against whom charges have been framed in serious offences from contesting elections.
A bench of Justices K M Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy issued notices to the Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Home Affairs, and the poll panel. The top court was hearing a plea filed by lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay on the issue.
Besides debarring persons against whom charges have been framed in criminal cases, the plea, filed through advocate Ashwani Kumar Dubey, has also sought direction from the Centre and the Election Commission of India (ECI) to take steps to restrain such candidates who are put on trial for serious offences.
The PIL claimed that despite recommendations of the Law Commission and the court's earlier directions, the Centre and the ECI have not taken steps in this regard. The plea said that out of 539 winners of the Lok Sabha election in 2019, as many as 233 (43%) declared criminal cases against themselves.
Highlighting the statistics from the report of NGO -- Association for Democratic Reforms -- the petition said there was an increase of 109 per cent in the number of MPs with declared serious criminal cases since 2009, with one MP declaring 204 criminal cases against himself including cases related to committing culpable homicide, house trespass, robbery, criminal intimidation, etc.
"What is alarming is that the percentage of candidates with criminal antecedents and their chances of winning have actually increased rapidly over the years," the petition said. Criminals who earlier used to help politicians win elections in the hope of getting favours, appear to have cut out the middle-man in favour of entering politics themselves.
"Political parties, in turn, have become steadily more reliant on criminals as candidates 'self-finance' their own elections in an era, where election contests have become phenomenally expensive, but also because candidates with criminal antecedents are more likely to win than clean candidates, it alleged.
It further alleged that political parties are competing with each other in a race to the bottom because they cannot afford to leave their competitors free to recruit criminals.
The injury caused to people is large because the criminalisation of politics is at an extreme level and political parties are still setting up candidates with serious criminal antecedents. Therefore, voters find it difficult to cast their vote freely and fairly though it is their fundamental right, guaranteed under Article 19, it said.