The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that political parties must publish criminal records of their election candidates within 48 hours of selection, Live Law reported.

The court modified its judgement from February 13 last year, which said that the criminal history of election candidates must be made public either within 48 hours of selection or two weeks prior to the first date of filing of nomination papers for an election.

The Supreme Court had added that political parties must publish the records in one regional and one national newspaper and also on Twitter and Facebook, PTI reported.

In November 2020, a lawyer filed a contempt petition before the Supreme Court against the Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and political parties in Bihar for allegedly violating the order to publish the criminal history of candidates who fought the Assembly polls, according to the Hindustan Times.

“Political parties mainly published the criminal antecedents of their candidates on their websites and in some less circulated newspapers and some in a limited manner on social media but nobody got it published in any national newspapers as directed by the apex court,” Brajesh Singh, the petitioner, had said, according to the newspaper.

The court had decided to examine Singh’s petition in February this year, The Hindu reported.

A bench headed by Justice Rohinton F Nariman had issued a notice to Arora, Bihar Chief Electoral Officer HR Srinivas, Jagada Nand Singh, the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Bihar president, Janata Dal (United) General Secretary KC Tyagi, Congress leader Randeep Surjewala and Bharatiya Janata Party’s BL Santosh.

Political parties fined

During Tuesday’s hearing, Nariman along with Justice BR Gavai fined eight political parties, including the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, for not making criminal records public as per the February 2020 order, reported NDTV.

The Congress, the BJP, the Rashtriya Janta Dal, the Janata Dal (United), the Communist Party of India and the Lok Jan Shakti Party have been fined Rs 1 lakh each for partial non-compliance of the court’s order, reported Bar and Bench. The court also fined Rs 5 lakh each on the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Nationalist Congress Party for total non-compliance.

Four candidates of the CPI(M) and 26 of the NCP had criminal records while contesting the Bihar Assembly polls, according to Bar and Bench. The counsel for the parties told the judges that they have tendered unconditional apologies.

However, the court said, “We don’t buy this sorry, our orders have to be followed. This cavalier and callous attitude cannot be tolerated.”

The court also observed that criminalisation in the Indian political system was growing day by day.

The bench added:

“This court, time and again, has appealed to the law-makers of the country to rise to the occasion and take steps for bringing out necessary amendments so that the involvement of persons with criminal antecedents in polity is prohibited. All these appeals have fallen on the deaf ears. The political parties refuse to wake up from deep slumber. However, in view of the constitutional scheme of separation of powers, though we desire that something urgently requires to be done in the matter, our hands are tied and we cannot transgress into the area reserved for the legislative arm of the state.”

— Supreme Court

Other directions

The Supreme Court also issued a slew of directions on Tuesday. It directed political parties to publish information regarding criminal antecedents of the candidates on the homepage of their websites. It also asked the Election Commission of India to create a dedicated mobile application containing information about the criminal antecedents of the candidates.

The bench told the poll panel to start a campaign to make citizens aware of their rights to know about the criminal history of the candidates. This has to be done across various platforms, including social media, websites, television advertisements, prime time debates and pamphlets.

The Election Commission was also asked to create a separate cell that will monitor the directions given by the Supreme Court in the matter.

Within four weeks, the court said, that the panel has to create a fund where the fine imposed for contempt of court can be deposited.