|Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual Introduction.
Body. Discuss various provisions of disqualifications under RPA. Discuss the effectiveness of these provisions in decriminalising Indian politics.
Conclusion. Way forward.
The Representation of the People Act, 1951 serves the backbone of the electoral process in India. Apart from providing the framework for the electoral process, Representation of the People Act, provides framework for qualification and disqualification for the parliamentary and state legislative elections.
Various provisions of disqualifications under Representation of people’s Act:
- Conviction in an offence: A member can be disqualified under RPA for various offence If a person is found to be guilty in any offence resulting in imprisonment for not less than 2 years, he is liable to be disqualified from his position.
- Illegal activities: Violation of laws such as Foreign Exchange (Regulation) Act, the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act, Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, Prevention of Corruption Act, Prevention of Terrorism Act, hoarding or profiteering and the Dowry Prohibition Act can also be the cause for disqualification.
- Holding an office of profit: A person fighting for elections if holding any office of profit under the government or its subsidiaries and do not resign is disqualified under RPA. In other words, holding an office of profit while being a member of the Parliament could lead to disqualification as an MP or MLA.
- Corrupt practices: A person convicted in practices such as bribery is not allowed to contest elections. Any effort to rig elections leads to disqualification under RPA.
- Anti-social activities: If a person is convicted for an offence involving the SC/ST act or involved in rape, cruelty towards wife, preaching or promoting untouchability etc. he will be disqualified.
- Failure to file election expenses: As per Section 10A of the Act, the failure to disclose election expenses could also lead to disqualification. It was under this provision that a former Madhya Pradesh minister was disqualified for a period of 3 years. An individual is expected to file his election expenses with the Election Commission of India within a certain period of time after election.
Limited impact of RPA in decriminalising Indian politics: Although RPA is important in preventing criminals from entering the electoral system and representative institutions, it has limited impact in decriminalising Indian politics.
- Low Rates of Conviction: According to a law commission report, there is an extremely wide gap between legislators with trials pending and those whose trials have actually resulted in convictions. For example, in the Lily Thomas case judgement only 3 legislators were disqualified as a result of convictions. In contrast with the number of pending cases against legislators, the number of convicted MPs and MLAs continues to be an extremely low figure, indicating a need for a change in the law.
- Delays in trials: The delays in the judicial system in India has reduced the very purpose of the act. In such cases, with delay, there is an increased chance that the accused might compromise the trial process, distort evidence, and delay proceedings further. Delays are also caused by prolonged absence from court proceedings by influential persons.
- Lack of adequate deterrence: Given the low levels of convictions of MPs and MLAs, and the lack of consequences for pending criminal charges, political parties are not deterred from continuing to hand out party tickets to persons with criminal backgrounds. Nearly half of the newly-elected Lok Sabha members have criminal charges against them, a 26% increase as compared to 2014, according to the Association of Democratic Reforms.
- Expediting trials: In the case of sitting MPs/ MLAs who have relevant charges framed against them the trial should be concluded speedily. The Supreme Court should in all the cases where a sitting MP/ MLA has charges framed against him, should conduct the trial on a day-to-day basis with an outer limit of completing the trial in one year.
- Amending the law: Disqualification upon conviction has proved to be incapable of curbing the growing criminalisation of politics, owing to long delays in trials and rare convictions. The law needs to evolve to pose an effective deterrence, and to prevent subversion of the process of justice.
- Special Fast track courts: Fast track courts may be established to deal with matters of disqualifications under RPA. This would prevent influential politicians to influence the outcome of the judgement due to paucity if time.
- Implementation of SC guideline: The Supreme Court held that chargesheeted Members of Parliament and MLAs, on conviction for offences, will be immediately disqualified from holding membership of the House without being given three months’ time for appeal, as was the case before. This is important for timely disqualification.
The law in its present form is incapable of curbing the growing cancer of criminalisation of politics. Long delays in trials coupled with rare convictions ensure that politicians face little or no consequences when engaging in criminal activity. The law needs to evolve to meet this threat to our democracy, and to effectively curb the steady flow of criminals into the political process.