The Supreme Court on Thursday said that political parties must upload details of criminal cases against candidates on their websites, newspaper and social media platforms, reported Live Law. The court flagged an “alarming rise in the criminalisation of politics” in the last four Lok Sabha elections.

The court also said that a party must clarify the reasons for fielding a particular candidate. It added that nominees must be selected on the basis of merit. “The reason to select candidates should be based on merit and not winnability,” the court said, according to NDTV.

The court said political parties will be liable for contempt if they fail to comply with the order. It asked the Election Commission to file contempt petition in Supreme Court if political parties do not follow the order.

The bench of Justices RF Nariman and S Ravindra Bhat was hearing a contempt plea filed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ashwini Upadhyay. The petitioner had claimed that the directions given by the top court in September 2018 related to disclosure of criminal antecedents by poll candidates were not being followed.

In September 2018, the Supreme Court had refused to disqualify politicians against whom criminal charges were pending from contesting elections, and left it to Parliament to frame an appropriate law. However, the court ordered that candidates contesting must declare their criminal antecedents to help the voter make an informed choice, the court said. Political parties were told to publish the criminal pasts of their candidates on their websites and publicise it.

The Congress, in response to the court’s order, alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already “torn the order to shreds”. The party said the Bharatiya Janata Party has appointed a minister in Karnataka who is an accused in mining cases.

“Today itself, Modiji has torn to shreds the orders of giving reasons for giving tickets to leaders accused in cases,” Congress Chief Spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeted with a news report on Anand Singh, accused in mining and forest-related crimes, being appointed as the state minister for environment and forests. “Modi ji & BJP again come to the rescue of ‘Bellary Gang’! SC says give reasons for giving tickets to tainted Netas or contempt! Modiji says make tainted Netas not MLA’s alone but Ministers of the ministry, which has been allegedly looted! Will SC issue conempt of PM and Karnataka CM?”

The case

During a hearing on January 24, the Election Commission told the Supreme Court that political parties should be asked not to field candidates with criminal backgrounds. The poll panel suggested this could reduce the involvement of those with criminal records in politics, as the top court’s 2018 order for candidates to declare their criminal antecedents in media had not helped.

In response, the Supreme Court said that Upadhyay and the lawyer for the Election Commission should sit together and come up with ways to curb criminalisation of politics. The bench asked the Election Commission to come up with a framework within one week.

In January 2019, the Supreme Court had dismissed Upadhyay’s petition seeking a direction to the Election Commission to restrain political parties from fielding candidates who have criminal records. “We are not inclined to entertain this petition,” a bench comprising then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjiv Khanna had told the petitioner. “However, it will be open to the petitioner to approach the Election Commission by giving a representation.”