The Supreme Court on Thursday raised several questions while hearing a plea that seeks to ban people facing serious criminal charges from contesting elections. Justice RF Nariman suggested that special courts could be established for people facing chargesheets after they have filed their nomination papers, LiveLaw reported.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra was hearing a petition by the Public Interest Foundation, represented by Dinesh Dwivedi. The petition claimed there were 34% legislators with criminal background in 2014 and it was quite “impossible” that Parliament would introduce any law to stop the “criminalisation of politics”.
The court expressed its hesitation in debating such a matter while citing that it does not want to violate the Constitution’s provisions on the separation of power. “There is a Lakshman rekha which we cannot cross,” Justice Nariman said.
Besides Misra and Nariman, the bench comprises Justices AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra. They said that only Parliament can make the law.
Attorney General KK Venugopal, representing the Centre, argued that it was Parliament’s prerogative to decide on the matter while stressing that the law states that a person is innocent till proven guilty.
The court asked if a person facing a murder charge “can still take the oath that he/she will uphold the Constitution of India”.
Venugopal said, “There was nothing in the oath which can establish that a person facing criminal charges will not uphold the Constitution, and moreover, there are provisions of right to fair trial in the Constitution and a person is presumed to be innocent till proven guilty.”
In March 2016, a three-judge bench had referred the matter to the current bench while asking it to consider if a legislator facing a criminal trial should be “disqualified at conviction or at the framing of charges in the case?”
Bharatiya Janata Party leader and advocate Ashwani Kumar Updhaya has also filed a petition asking the court to direct the Centre and other stakeholders “to bring in electoral reform and to make rules... and a code of conduct for de-criminalisation and de-communalisation of politics and for eradication of corruption, casteism and nepotism from electoral system.”