List of Contents
Source: This post is based on the article “Still hanging fire on transparency” published in The Hindu on 31st August 2021.
Relevance: Understand issues of criminalization of politics.
Synopsis: Courts need to go beyond appealing to the fictional conscience of our lawmakers.
Recently, the Supreme Court (SC) fined 8 political parties for being in contempt of the Court’s decisions to inform citizens about criminal antecedents of their candidates.
Criminal cases against the politicians:
There has been an increase in criminal cases against politicians. In 2004, 24% of the Members of Parliament had criminal cases pending against them. This figure rose to an alarming 43% after the 2019 general elections.
|Read more: Functioning of Parliament: Challenges and way forward – Explained, pointwise|
Instructions by SC
In various judgements, the SC directed political parties to inform the electorates about:
- The criminal antecedents of candidates.
- Why the party found these candidates more suitable than those without criminal backgrounds?
- Party should give reasons for selections with reference to qualifications, achievements and other merits.
Despite these clear directives, parties have not worked as per these directives.
There are many instances in the past where political parties have shown contempt to directives of court:
- In Union of India vs ADR (2002): Court directed all candidates to file an affidavit declaring their educational, financial and criminal backgrounds. But, political parties amended the Representation of the People Act, 1951, to nullify the disclosure requirements. The Court later struck down the amendments.
- In 2013, the Central Information Commission (CIC) declared six national political parties as ‘public authorities’ under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. Parties were required to appoint Public Information Officers(PIO) and submit themselves to provisions of the transparency law.
- Political parties immediately introduced a bill in Parliament to amend the RTI law to exclude political parties from the ambit of the RTI legislation. It was only due to strong public opposition that the amendments were finally dropped. But still, Political parties have not appointed PIOs.
Introduction of Electoral Bonds
Political parties often oppose the scrutiny of political funding by the public. Further, they do not want any examination which may reveal the names of their donors (who give financial support to parties). So, the introduction of electoral bonds has created a further blow to people’s right to know and consolidated the role of money in electoral politics.
|Must read: Electoral Bond and its challenges – Explained, Pointwise|
While hearing the challenge to the instrument of electoral bonds, the Supreme Court in 2019 observed that the transparency of electoral bonds is vital for the sanctity of the electoral process. Unfortunately, the case has not received the urgent attention that it requires, and the petition has been pending for nearly four years.
What should the courts do?
- It needs to urgently hear the matter of the electoral bond, along with the issue of the refusal of political parties to comply with the CIC’s order.
- Judiciary needs to put in a mechanism that ensures that its directives are followed before the conduct of elections.
- It should debar candidates who violate its orders.
What further steps are needed to bring transparency in electoral funding?
The country can no longer afford courts to become mere spectators of the erosion of democracy.
In the public interest, the courts should intervene and not just limit themselves to appealing to lawmakers to formulate strict laws. The courts need to make decisive judgements and lay down directions to enhance the transparency in the matter of public funding.
Terms to know