SC raps EC for shying away on life ban on elections for convicted politicians

The Election Commission’s reluctance to take a decision on a petition to ban convicted politicians from electoral politics for life has drawn a sharp rebuke from the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court
The Supreme Court on Wednesday ticked off the Election Commission for not taking a stand on a demand for a lifelong ban on convicted politicians in electoral politics. (REUTERS)

In a u-turn the Election Commission said on Wednesday that it cannot take a stand on a demand to bar convicted politicians for life from contesting polls, prompting the Supreme Court to criticise the poll panel for shying away from a crucial issue.

“Is silence an option for you? You must say either yes or no. How can you be silent? If you are constrained please let us know,” a bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi asked the EC counsel whose submission was a departure from the stand the commission took in its affidavit.

In response to a public interest litigation raising the demand, the EC had on April filed an affidavit where it supported the petitioner’s plea. The short affidavit said the commission supported the cause of the petitioner to decriminalise politics.

When the court asked the commission’s lawyer, the latter replied: “The commission is not taking an adversarial stand. We feel the issue (debarring convicted politicians) is in the legislative domain and we have no stand.”

“If you feel constrained by the legislature then let us know,” the bench shot back at the counsel.

The Centre has already made its stand clear on the issue by opposing the petition. In its affidavit in April it had said that the court should not pass orders on the issue as this is a matter best decided by the Parliament.

The court also took a swipe at the petitioner for invoking Article 14 (right to equality) in the case. The petitioner had contended that while a convicted bureaucrat and judicial officer lose his or their jobs, the same principle should apply to convicted politicians.

“Are you espousing the cause of public servants, complaining of discrimination on the ground of Article 14,” the bench told the petitioner, fixing July 19 to hear the matter again.

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

The poll panel had said in its affidavit it was “alive to the issues that concern the conduct of free and fair elections and functioning of healthy democracy and as such asserting for bringing in electoral reforms which further the cause of free and fair elections.”
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