The Narendra Modi government is ready with some tough proposals to decriminalize politics by amending the Representation of People Act to debar those against whom charges are framed in a heinous crime from contesting elections for a minimum of 13 years.
The proposed changes, part of the draft RP Act (amendment) bill, says a candidate can be disqualified from contesting elections if a chargesheet has been filed against him in a court for any crime where the prison term is not less than seven years. He shall remain disqualified from contesting polls till his acquittal or six years after serving the prison term.
So, even if the trial is pending or upon conviction a candidate goes in for appeal he stands disqualified from contesting elections for a period which shall be the complete term of the sentence and six years thereafter – thus the minimum disqualification stands at 13 years. As of now, there is no restriction on a candidate to contest elections unless he has been convicted by a court.
The law ministry is ready with the draft bill and depending on PM Narendra Modi’s approval may table it in Parliament in the next session. The issue of decriminalization of politics has assumed significance considering the Wednesday’s judgment of the apex court where it left to the wisdom of the PM and CMs to drop criminal elements from council of ministers. There is also a PIL pending in the SC which may come up for final hearing sometime next month. The issue under consideration in the PIL is whether a candidate should be disqualified from contesting elections if charges are framed against him in a court in cases of heinous crimes.
However, sources said the law ministry has introduced a safeguard in the proposed amendment bill that clarifies that the chargesheet has to be filed at least 180 days prior to the notification of the poll for a candidate against whom charges have been framed, to be disqualified.
The government has already obtained recommendations of the Law commission on the issue of dicriminalisation of politics and the proposed amendment in the RP Act. The draft bill has been finalised incorporating some of the suggestions made by the commission. The Law panel had suggested the minimum sentence criteria for disqualification as five years which the Law ministry has proposed as seven years.
The proposed amendments also for the first time provides that on furnishing of a false affidavit before the Election Commission, which is mandatory for every contestant, a politician shall stand disqualified from his seat and subsequently debarred from contesting any election for a period which shall be the term of the sentence and six years thereafter.
In case of false affidavit, the Law ministry has enhanced the punishment from the current prison term of six months to three years.
A petition seeking decriminalisation of politics is pending in the Supreme Court. The apex court, while hearing a public interest litigation filed by an NGO Public Interest Foundation on March 10, had ruled that trials in all cases against MPs and MLAs against whom charges have been framed shall be concluded within a year.
The government is keeping its draft bill ready as the next date of hearing approaches sometime in September, in case the apex court comes out with a directive disqualifying a candidate from participating in elections if charges have been framed against them.
The chief demand of the litigant, PIF, is to disqualify a candidate from contesting elections once charges are framed against him in heinous crimes where punishment is five years or more.
Interestingly, the mover of the PIF petition was former chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Nripendra Misra who has now been appointed as the principal secretary to the prime minister.