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Indian Polity

Rajya Sabha Members Facing Criminal Charges

  • 24 Jul 2020
  • 8 min read

Why in News

  • According to an analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), about 24% of the sitting Rajya Sabha members have declared criminal cases against themselves.

Key Points

  • Data Analysis: Analysis of 229 of the 233 Rajya Sabha seats showed that 54 MPs had declared criminal cases.
    • Among the newly-elected representatives 28 or 12% had declared serious criminal cases.
    • It also found out from their self-sworn affidavits that 89% have declared assets estimated at over Rs. 1 crore.
  • 17th Lok Sabha: According to the finding of Association of Democratic Reforms, about 43% of members elected to 17th Lok Sabha are facing criminal charges in court of law, while 84% have self-declared assets worth more than Rs. 1 crore.
    • This is the highest number of members of parliament facing serious criminal charges like rape, murder and kidnapping, since 2004.
  • ADR is an Indian non-governmental organization established in 1999 situated in New Delhi.
    • With National Election Watch (NEW), ADR is striving to bring transparency and accountability in Indian politics and reduce the influence of money and muscle power in elections.

Criminalisation of Politics

  • Criminalization of politics is the involvement of the candidates with criminal charges in politics through the elections and even getting elected to the Parliament and state legislature. It takes place primarily because of the nexus between the criminals and the politicians.
  • Reasons:
    • Lack of Political Will: Section 8 of the Ac the Representation of Peoples (RP) Act, 1951 disqualifies a person convicted with a sentence of two years or more from contesting elections. But those under trial continued to be eligible to contest elections.
    • Use of Muscle and Money Power: Candidates with serious criminal records seem to do well despite their bad public image, largely due to their ability to finance their own elections and further fund their respective parties for different election activities.
    • Vote Bank: Criminals are being wooed by political parties and given cabinet posts because their muscle and money fetches crucial votes.
    • Narrow Self-interests of Voters: Some voters tend to view such candidates through a narrow prism of being able to represent their community interests by hook or by crook.
    • Lack of Choices: Sometimes voters are left with no options, as all competing candidates have criminal records.
  • Consequences:
    • Ineffective Democracy: It affects the efficacy of the democratic process in delivering good governance as law breakers become law makers.
    • Culture of Violence: It introduces a culture of violence in society and sets a bad precedent for the youth to follow.
    • Black Money: It also leads to increased circulation of black money during and after elections, diluting probity in public life.
Measures Taken by the Supreme Court
Case/Year Judgment/Measures
Union of India (UOI) vs. Association for Democratic Reforms, 2002 The Supreme Court held that every candidate, contesting an election to the Parliament, State Legislatures or Municipal Corporation, has to declare their criminal records, financial records and educational qualifications.
Ramesh Dalal vs. Union of India, 2005 A sitting Member of Parliament (MP) or Member of State Legislature (MLA) shall also be subject to disqualification from contesting elections if he is convicted and sentenced to not less than 2 years of imprisonment by a court of law.
Lily Thomas vs. Union of India, 2013 Section 8(4) of The Representation of the People Act, 1951 was declared unconstitutional which allowed MPs and MLAs who were convicted to continue in office till an appeal against such conviction was disposed of.
People's Union for Civil Liberties vs. Union of India, 2013 The Supreme Court asked Election Commission to provide 'none of the above' choice to voters to exercise their right to express no confidence in all candidates.
2017 The Supreme Court had directed the Centre to set up special fast-track courts to exclusively try lawmakers and politicians facing criminal cases.
  • Election Commission's Recommendations: In 1997, Election Commission directed all the Returning Officers (ROs) to reject the nomination papers of any candidate who stands convicted on the day of filing the nomination papers even if his sentence is suspended.
    • It recommended that if a person is found guilty by a commission of Inquiry then he shall be disqualified from contesting elections.
    • The First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system shall be replaced by the 2-ballot system under which a candidate is declared elected from a territorial constituency on the basis of majority principle.
      • If no one wins 50 percent of the vote, all candidates except the top two are excluded and voters are asked to vote a second time. In the second round, the candidate who wins the most votes is elected.
      • The 2-ballot system will make winning elections very difficult for criminals as they will have to garner the widest possible support from the voters to get the majority votes.
      • Along with the 2-ballot system, the negative vote shall also be introduced.
  • Other Measures:
    • Right to recall: It confers the power on the registered voters in a constituency to recall their elected representatives from the house on the ground of non-performance. It could empower the people at grassroot level. The elected representative could be made truly accountable to the people.
    • State Funding of Elections: It means the government would extend financial assistance to the political parties to contest elections in part or in full, in kind or in cash.
      • Various committees (Dinesh Goswami, Inderjeet Committee) on the electoral reforms have recommended for state funding of elections.
      • State funding of elections will curb use of black money to a large extent and thereby will have a significant impact on limiting criminalization of politics.

Way Forward

  • There is a need for fixing the governance system and effective regulation of political financing along with bold reforms to break the vicious cycle of criminals and politics. It is crucial to plug the loopholes in the current laws to make the entire governance machinery more accountable and transparent.
  • Citizens must vote in elections based on character, conduct and capability of the candidates and not based on cash, caste, community and criminal prowess. This could be the ultimate solution to check money power in politics.

Source: TH

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