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Indian court ruling bars convicted criminals from politics

People with sentences of more than two years can not take office

Swati Deb, New Delhi

July 11, 2013

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Lawmakers convicted of serious crimes in India are to be barred from sitting in parliament or state assemblies, following a landmark ruling by the country’s Supreme Court yesterday.

The court struck down a provision in the Representation of the People Act 1951 that allows convicted lawmakers to remain in office if an appeal against their conviction is pending in higher courts.

The new ruling applies to federal and state legislators who have received sentences of two or more years.  

"Disqualification takes place from the date of conviction,” a two-judge bench said in its ruling.

 "If a convicted person has no right to vote, he has no right to contest," the ruling added.

The decision will apply to those convicted in the future and not to lawmakers who have already been convicted and have filed appeals.

Political parties have reacted cautiously. The law minister, Kapil Sibal, said the government will study the "impact of the judgment" before making any comment on it.

Observers say political parties may well challenge the ruling and request its referral to a larger Supreme Court bench for further scrutiny. There are fears that rivals could use the judgment to make false allegations against politicians to prevent them from contesting elections.

However, social activists and India’s Election Commission welcomed the verdict, with hopes that the ruling would help clean up Indian politics that has been plagued by a slew of corruption scandals.

“It is a move in the right direction," said Navin Chawla, a former chief election commissioner.

"There are 1,460 serving lawmakers across India facing criminal charges. Therefore, the Supreme Court ruling is a significant step and a milestone towards cleaning up Indian politics," Anil Bairwal, national coordinator of the election watchdog Association for Democratic Reforms, told yesterday.

A recent joint study by National Election Watch and the Association of Democratic Reforms revealed that nearly 150 of the 543 current members of parliament have criminal cases pending against them, while a survey based on poll affidavits revealed that 15 MPs are facing at least one murder charge.

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