Petition in SC complains about lack of publicity of Bihar poll candidates’ criminal past

A contempt petition has been filed in the Supreme Court (SC) against the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and prominent political parties in the fray in the Bihar assembly elections, which concluded on November 7, for allegedly flouting the mandatory direction of the apex court to widely publicise criminal antecedents of candidates, who had contested the polls.

Brajesh Singh, a Nalanda-based lawyer, moved the SC, seeking that contempt proceedings be initiated against CEC Sunil Arora, Bihar’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) HR Srinivas, KC Tyagi of the ruling Janata Dal (United), Jagdanand Singh of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Abdul Khalik of the Loktantrik Janta Party (LJP), Randeep Singh Surjewala of Indian National Congress (INC) and BL Santhosh of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The petition has accused these political parties of not complying with the direction to give publicity of criminal antecedents of candidates in widely circulated newspapers, social media platforms, and their respective websites.

The SC had given this direction on February 13 while deciding on a contempt petition urging political parties to comply with the law laid down by a five-judge constitution bench in September 2018, which had ordered candidates to mandatorily disclose their criminal cases before polls.

In February, the apex court had directed what the form and content of such disclosure should be. It even required political parties to give compelling reasons for selecting such persons with criminal antecedents.

The contempt petition stated that most political parties published details of criminal cases against their candidates in less circulated newspapers instead of leading dailies in Bihar.

According to the petition, this amounted to contempt of the court orders, which required publicity to be done through widely circulated newspapers and that, too, at least three times after filing of nomination papers of a tainted candidate.

The petition pointed out that “political parties mainly published the criminal antecedents of their candidates on their websites and in some less circulated based newspapers and some in a limited manner on social media but nobody got it published in any national newspapers as directed by the apex court”.

The petition further stated that some political parties fielded candidates with dozens of criminal cases against them, including serious offences. Such brazen violation of the SC direction was cocking a snook at the apex court’s order, which had sought to create checks and balances while nominating a candidate.

A survey, which was conducted by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a non-partisan, non-governmental organisation (NGO) that works in the area of electoral and political reforms, has revealed that of the 241 elected candidates in the 243-member newly constituted Bihar Assembly, 163 have pending criminal cases pending against them.

The figure translates to 68% of the elected lawmakers are tainted. Of this 68%, over 50% or 123 legislators have serious criminal cases pending against them such as murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, and crimes against women. In the previous Bihar legislative assembly, 142 lawmakers were tainted.

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