The Supreme Court has reserved its verdict on whether the Election Commission can suspend political parties' symbols if they do not disclose the criminal history of candidates in violation of its 2020 order.
This came after the CPI(M) and Sharad Pawar's NCP apologised to the Supreme Court for not following the order during the Bihar Assembly elections in 2020. "We don't buy this sorry, our orders must be followed," Justice RF Nariman, sitting with Justice BR Gavai, remarked.
KV Viswanathan, Senior Advocate assisting the court as Amicus Curiae, suggested that Section 16A of RP Act - suspending party symbol, is the only deterrent and suspension can be time bound.
"NCP and CPI-M both first time violators must be punished. The court may order publishing apologies in papers by these two parties and a fund to be set up by EC for creating awareness," he said.
Harish Salve, the Election Commission lawyer, welcomed the suggestion. "EC welcomes the setting up of the fund. If the Supreme Court is imposing a fine let it not be one rupee, so that people do not have photos taken with Re 1 handed over with a smile on their face," he said, referring to Prashant Bhushan paying Re 1 as fine for contempt of court.
"The change has to come from the heart of people. What we all want to see is that change should come to the system," he added.
He said criminalisation of politics has gone up despite bringing out criminal antecedents of candidates in the public domain.
In February 2020, the Supreme Court had asked all political parties to explain why candidates with criminal cases were selected. It ordered the political parties to upload details of cases against candidates on party websites and reasons for selecting such candidates.
The Election Commission had also directed political parties to publish in newspapers information on criminal cases against such candidates.
Vikas Singh, senior advocate appearing for the Election Commission, told the court today that the Rastriya Janata Dal was the biggest defaulter with 103 candidates having criminal antecedents and JDU had fielded 56 candidates having criminal history. He suggested suspending the election symbol in case of violation by a national party.