The Supreme Court on Tuesday urged the Parliament to a make a law to curb those facing serious criminal charges from contesting elections, stating that the growing criminalisation of politics struck at the roots of democracy.

The court, citing the separation of powers enunciated in the Constitution between the Parliament and the judiciary, refused to do the same through a judicial writ, asserting that lawmaking was the duty of the legislature.

Instead, the court has framed several guidelines to ensure that the voters are well informed of the criminal antecedents of those contesting elections.

In an elaborate judgement, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, speaking for a five-judge Constitution bench, said the court cannot accept the prayer of the petitioners that persons against whom charges have been framed in a serious offence be disqualified from contesting polls.

The law at the moment only envisaged disqualification at the time of conviction and not framing of charges by a court, though many commissions appointed by different governments have recommended such a step.

“The legislature has very clearly enumerated the grounds for disqualification,” the bench said. “The language of the said provision leaves no room for any new ground to be added or introduced.”

The court also refused another prayer, which wanted it to bar persons with criminal antecedents from contesting under symbols allotted to recognised political parties.

However, the court, quoting statistics, lamented the increasing presence of people with criminal antecedents in the electoral fray. Commenting on this trend, the court said:

“An essential component of a constitutional democracy is its ability to give and secure for its citizenry a representative form of government, elected freely and fairly, and comprising of a polity whose members are men and women of high integrity and morality. This could be said to be the hallmark of any free and fair democracy.”

The court said while it cannot legislate, it could very well recommend certain measures. In this, the Supreme Court said the time has come for Parliament to act decisively to curb criminalisation of politics. The court added:

“A time has come that the Parliament must make law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter into the political stream. It is one thing to take cover under the presumption of innocence of the accused but it is equally imperative that persons who enter public life and participate in law making should be above any kind of serious criminal allegation.” 

The court then issued several guidelines to ensure the voters made an informed choice during elections. These included that the candidates should mention the criminal cases against them in bold letters in forms issued by the Election Commission of India. If candidates are contesting an election on the ticket of a particular party, they are required to inform the party about the criminal cases pending against them.

The court said political parties should put such information on criminal antecedents of their candidates on their websites. The candidates and the political parties shall give wide publicity to such information by declaring it in newspapers and electronic media at least three times after the nomination has been filed.