CRIMINALISATION OF POLITICS
Criminalisation of politics is an anathema to the sacredness of democracy. Commenting on criminalization of politics, the Court, in Dinesh Trivedi, M.P. and others v. Union of India and others (1997) 4 SCC 306, lamented the faults and imperfections which have impeded the country in reaching the expectations which heralded its conception. While identifying one of the primary causes, the Court referred to the report of N.N. Vohra Committee that was submitted on 5.10.1993. The Court noted that the growth and spread of crime syndicates in Indian society has been pervasive and the criminal elements have developed an extensive network of contacts at many a sphere. The Court, further referring to the report, found that the Report reveals several alarming and deeply disturbing trends that are prevalent in our present society. The Court further noticed that the nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and criminal elements in our society has been on the rise, the adverse effects of which are increasingly being felt on various aspects of social life in India. Indeed, the situation has worsened to such an extent that the President of our country felt constrained to make references to the phenomenon in his addresses to the Nation on the eve of the Republic Day in 1996 as well as in 1997 and hence, it required to be handled with extreme care and circumspection.
In Anukul Chandra Pradhan, Advocate Supreme Court v. Union of India and others (1997) 6 SCC 1, the Court, in the context of the provisions made in the election law, observed that they have been made to exclude persons with criminal background of the kind specified therein from the election scene as candidates and voters with the object to prevent criminalization of politics and maintain propriety in elections. Thereafter, the three-Judge Bench opined that any provision enacted with a view to promote the said object must be welcomed and upheld as subserving the constitutional purpose. In K. Prabhakaran v. P. Jayarajan AIR 2005 SC 688, in the context of enacting disqualification under Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (for brevity “the 1951 Act”), it has been reiterated that persons with criminal background pollute the process of election as they have no reservation from indulging in criminality to gain success at an election.
It is worth saying that systemic corruption and sponsored criminalization can corrode the fundamental core of elective democracy and, consequently, the constitutional governance. The agonized concern expressed by this Court on being moved by the conscious citizens, as is perceptible from the authorities referred to hereinabove, clearly shows that a democratic republic polity hopes and aspires to be governed by a Government which is run by the elected representatives who do not have any involvement in serious criminal offences or offences relating to corruption, casteism, societal problems, affecting the sovereignty of the nation and many other offences. There are recommendations given by different committees constituted by various Governments for electoral reforms. Some of the reports that have been highlighted at the bar are (i) Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms (1990), (ii) Vohra Committee Report (1993), (iii) Indrajit Gupta Committee on State Funding of Elections (1998), (iv) Law Commission Report on Reforms of the Electoral Laws (1999), (v) National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (2001), (vi) Election Commission of India – Proposed Electoral Reforms (2004), (vii) The Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2008), (vii) Justice J.S. Verma Committee Report on Amendments to Criminal Law (2013), and (ix) Law Commission Report (2014).
Vohra Committee Report and other Reports have been taken note of on various occasions by this Court. Justice J.S. Verma Committee Report on Amendments to Criminal Law has proposed insertion of Schedule 1 to the 1951 Act enumerating offences under IPC befitting the category of ‘heinous’ offences. It recommended that Section 8(1) of the 1951 Act should be amended to cover, inter alia, the offences listed in the proposed Schedule 1 and a provision should be engrafted that a person in respect of whose acts or omissions a court of competent jurisdiction has taken cognizance under Section 190(1)(a), (b) or (c) of the Code of Criminal Procedure or who has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction with respect to the offences specified in the proposed expanded list of offences under Section 8(1) shall be disqualified from the date of taking cognizance or conviction, as the case may be. It further proposed that disqualification in case of conviction shall continue for a further period of six years from the date of release upon conviction and in case of acquittal, the disqualification shall operate from the date of taking cognizance till the date of acquittal.
The Law Commission, in its 2 44th Report, 2014, has suggested amendment to the 1951 Act by insertion of Section 8B after Section 8A, after having numerous consultations and discussions, with the avowed purpose to prevent criminalization of politics. It proposes to provide for electoral reforms. Though it is a recommendation by the Law Commission, yet to understand the existing scenario in which the criminalization of politics has the effect potentiality to create a concavity in the highly treasured values of democracy, we think it apt to reproduce the relevant part of the proposed amendment. It reads as follows: –
“8B. Disqualification on framing of charge for certain offences. – (1) A person against whom a charge has been framed by a competent court for an offence punishable by at least five years imprisonment shall be disqualified from the date of framing the charge for a period of six years, or till the date of quashing of charge or acquittal, whichever is earlier.
(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, nothing in sub-section (1) shall apply to a person:
(i) Who holds office as a Member of Parliament, State Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council at the date of enactment of this provision, or
(ii) Against whom a charge has been framed for an offence punishable by at least five years imprisonment;
(a) Less than one year before the date of scrutiny of nominations for an election under Section 36, in relation to that election;
(b) At a time when such person holds office as a Member of Parliament, State Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council, and has been elected to such office after the enactment of these provisions;
(3) For Members of Parliament, State Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council covered by clause (ii) of sub-section (2), they shall be disqualified at the expiry of one year from the date of framing of charge or date of election, whichever is later, unless they have been acquitted in the said period or the relevant charge against them has been quashed.”
The aforesaid vividly exposits concern at all quarters about the criminalisation of politics. Criminalisation of politics, it can be said with certitude, creates a dent in the marrows of the nation.