The Supreme Court has ordered political parties in the country to make information on criminal background of its candidates public. The apex court asked parties to publish the information on their websites as well as on print media. The court flagged an "alarming rise in the criminalisation of politics" in the last four national elections.
The court stated that the information on cases, offences and trial stages must be published on party websites and local vernacular newspapers. The Supreme Court has said that party should also declare the reasons for choosing the candidate. The details must be put up online within two days of a candidate's selection.
"The reason to select candidates should be based on merit and not winnability. Winnability can't be the only justification," the Supreme Court stated.
The apex court stated that the details must also be provided to the Election Commission of India within three days of the candidate's selection. The ECI can also initiate contempt of court proceedings against the party if the information is not submitted to the relevant authorities or posted online.
The orders come on contempt petitions filed by lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay and others. In 2018, a five-member constitution bench asked the Centre to enact laws to ban individuals with serious criminal charges from contesting elections and becoming party officials. Upadhyay subsequently filed a contempt petition stating that no serious efforts were made to prevent criminalisation of politics despite the order by the top court.
The Supreme Court's orders come soon after the assembly elections in Delhi wrapped up. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, more than half of the newly-elected MLAs have criminal charges against them. From 24 MLAs with criminal charges in 2015, the number has increased to 43 in 2020. There are 37 MLAs with serious charges, including rape and attempt to murder.