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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court refused to entertain a plea on Friday that sought to debar people who have been convicted in criminal cases and cannot contest elections from heading or floating political parties.
A bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud asked the petitioner, advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, “How far can the courts go? Let the government and Parliament look into this. Can we stop a convicted person from heading a political party? Will it not be incongruent with the right to free speech? Can the court restrain a convicted person from propagating his political views?”
The petitioner said at present a person convicted for serious criminal offences can form a political party and become party president even after being barred from contesting elections as a candidate. “For instance, Lalu Prasad, O P Chautala and Sasikala have been convicted of major criminal offences but still hold the highest post in political parties,” Upadhyay said.
Similarly, courts have framed charges in serious cases against Suresh Kalmadi, A Raja, Jagan Reddy, Madhu Koda, Ashok Chavan, Akbaruddin Owaisi, Kanimozhi, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Virbhadra Singh, Mukhtar Ansari, Mohammad Shahabuddin, Suraj Bhan Singh, Anand Mohan Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati and Brijesh Singh etc. Yet, they are holding political posts and wielding political power,” he said.
But the court’s resoluteness in protecting the right to free speech, including that of convicted people, was evident to the courtroom. The petitioner’s counsel, senior advocates Sidharth Luthra and Sajan Poovaiya, deftly changed tack and said the SC should examine provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which grants the Election Commission the power to register a political party without the corresponding power to de-register them.
Luthra said proliferation of political parties in the country has been a cause for concern for some decades and the national committee for review of the working of the Constitution suggested a statutory framework for registration and de-registration of political parties.
More than a decade ago in 2004, “even the Election Commission had proposed an amendment to Section 29A of the RP Act to authorise it to issue appropriate orders to regulate registration/de-registration of parties,” he said.
The SC agreed to examine the issue pertaining to empowering EC to de-register political parties if the situation so warranted because of their wrongdoings and sought responses from the Centre and EC.
Last year, EC de-listed political parties which existed only on paper and had not contested any local or national elections since 2005. This was done through the use of special powers and the decision could be contested in court. There no provision that allows EC to de-register political parties.