clean, court tells Indian politicians
Supreme Court declares as 'null and void' their
bid to quash order for poll candidates to disclose assets and
NEW DELHI - The world's most populous democracy can do with a bit
more honesty, India's highest court has decided.
Candidates wishing to contest elections have been told to come
clean on their wealth and own up to any criminal records - a rebuff
by the court of an earlier move by political parties to evade public
The idea is to guard against such scenarios as politicians
running for office from jail while they await trial, without telling
Others with serious convictions are permitted to stand after they
launch legal appeals, which due to endemic court delays, can take
The Indian Supreme Court has also indicted the federal government
for making half-hearted attempts to reform electoral laws and not
doing enough to prevent the use of money and muscle power during
In May last year, the court had ordered the federal Election
Commission to frame rules to ensure that politicians declared their
assets and kept the voter informed if they faced any criminal
The court said that such a declaration would help the voter make
the right choice during elections.
The commission, responsible for conducting elections in the
country, complied with the court order.
But in July last year, all the political parties closed ranks and
Parliament adopted an amendment to the Representation of the People
Act, rejecting the commission's new norms.
In its ruling on Thursday, the Supreme Court said that the July
2002 amendment deprived the people of their right to know their
candidates before they voted for them.
So the court rejected it as being 'illegal, null and void' and
beyond the legislative competence of the parliament.
Insisting that its May 2002 order was final and could not be
sidetracked by the amendment, the court ordered the Election
Commission to issue a fresh set of rules for politicians to come
clean on their wealth and their criminal background, if any, when
they stand for elections.
The court said: 'There can be little doubt that exposure to
public gaze and scrutiny is one of the surest means to cleanse our
democratic governing system and to have competent
The ruling came after petitions filed by three non-government
organisations - the People's Union for Civil Liberties, Lok Satta
and the Association for Democratic Reforms - challenging the
validity of the amendment.
Political parties pointed out that the amendment had been made
after a thorough discussion last year.
The latest verdict had to be studied carefully, they said, and
urged the federal government to call for an all-party meeting to
discuss the issue.
Some members said politicians in power could misuse the rules to
frame their rivals in a criminal case.
'We welcome transparency but we have to carefully study why the
court objected to the amendment made by all parties and then discuss
it in an all-party meeting,' Mr V.K. Malhotra, spokesman for the
Bharatiya Janata Party, which leads the ruling federal coalition,
told the Hindustan Times.
Mr Ramjilal Suman, a member of the opposition Samajwadi Party,
said: 'All parties had sat together last year and formulated certain
provisions to make elections more transparent.
Now another all-party meeting must be called to debate this
'A criminal case is not important. What is important is what kind
of case it is. Anybody can slap any case for political vendetta,' he
Leftist politician Prakash Karat said the court order would not
solve the problem.
But Mr Oscar Fernandes, member of the opposition Congress Party,
said that since it was a Supreme Court order, it had to be
117 MPs CHARGED
NEW DELHI - The Lower House of the Indian Parliament has 117
members who have had cases of murder, rape, extortion and robbery
filed against them, a news magazine here reported.
Citing a federal Home Ministry report, the magazine said 19 MPs
had more than three criminal cases against them and 71 of them could
not get loans from financial institutions because of poor credit
Seven had been arrested for fraud and 29 faced charges of
ill-treating their wives.
Some of the prominent ones are:
L.K. Advani, Federal Home Minister: Accused of having abetted
the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya in 1992.
Murli Manohar Joshi, Federal Minister for Science and
Technology: Also faces charges in the Babri demolition case.
Sharad Yadav, Federal Minister for Consumer Affairs: Charged
with receiving 500,000 rupees (S$18,400) from an illegal foreign
exchange or 'hawala' dealer.
Laloo Prasad Yadav, former Bihar chief minister: Jailed after
being charged by the federal police in a 7.5 billion-rupee scam in
the Animal Husbandry department.
Satish Sharma, opposition Congress member from Rae Bareli, Uttar
Pradesh: Charged with involvement in bribing some MPs to get them to
back the Congress government during a parliamentary vote in the