The Supreme Court on Wednesday criticised the Election Commission of India for going back on its earlier position supporting a plea for a lifetime ban on convicted lawmakers, IANS reported. “It [the matter] is within the domain of the Election Commission. If you don’t want to be independent, [and remain] constrained by the legislature, [then] say so,” said a bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha.

“When a citizen comes to the Election Commission seeking lifetime ban on convicted lawmakers, is silence an option? Either you can say ‘yes’, or ‘no’. Can you afford to be silent?” the bench asked. The Supreme Court was examining a response filed by the Election Commission in April, agreeing with a petitioner who asked for a lifetime ban on convicted lawmakers.

However, the Election Commission’s counsel told the court that its assent to the petitioner’s demands should not be read “in isolation”, but as part of the entire response. The court replied by saying that the Election Commission wanted it to “read between the lines”, which it would not do. It said the next hearing would be held on July 19.

The court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ashwani Kumar Upadhyay seeking lifetime ban on convicted lawmakers. The PIL also asked for special courts to try lawmakers accused of criminal offences.

The Narendra Modi government has already opposed the petition. It had said in an affidavit in April that the court should not pass orders on the issue, as it is a matter to be decided by Parliament.

Under the Representation of the People Act, a politician convicted and sentenced to a jail term of two years or more is disqualified from contesting polls for six years from the date of their release from prison.