The Election Commission of India will straightaway implement the Supreme Court orders on ‘publicising’ criminal records of candidates in the upcoming assembly elections in five states and will issue a notification next week on the court’s orders as per norms, sources told ET.

The move will throw a new challenge before all political parties that have been asked to ensure that each candidate in the fray must declare his or her criminal antecedents in ‘bold letters’ in forms detailed by the Election Commission. Each candidate has also been asked to ‘inform’ the public about his or her criminal record at least three times after filing of nomination papers -through newspapers at large and electronic media.

EC will work out a format for the new declaration of criminal records which will also be put on the website of political parties, as per SC orders.

There is already a format by which candidates declare their criminal antecedents, assets and liabilities to the EC which are then put online. A new format will now be worked out for public dissemination to ensure it is not misrepresented, manipulated or ‘dressed up’ for positive publicity in any way, sources added.

However, there are several issues that EC will have to examine prior to piloting this in the state elections. One being whether this ‘negative’ advertising cost should be added to a candidate’s expenditure limit. As of now, the expenditure limit for a state assembly candidate is capped at `28 lakh while it is `70 lakh for candidates for general elections. All newspaper and electronic media advertisements/publicity material are included within this limit.

The order could mean that even the criminal record advertising could fall in the same ambit - something that could have huge impact especially for candidates in urban centres where newspaper and TV ad pricing is high. The EC may have to therefore, factor in this and even consider keeping them out of the expenditure cap.

Another concern will be the practicality of a situation where a candidate is expected to advertise his or her own criminal antecedents before elections.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi called SC’s direction on this aspect as “Kafkaesque”.

“Declaration of antecedents in the form is already part of the law. However, I do not agree with the advertisement part. That is unreal, artificial and divorced from reality. It reflects a rather academic viewpoint. If the actual criminal case per se is not a disqualification and if information about each candidate can be accessed on the EC website after he files his application, it would Kafkaesque to expect the candidate through advertisements to ask people not to vote for him or her or to exhibit and spread his own unpopularity,” Singhvi told ET.

Former chief election commissioner N Gopalaswami, however, said this was the last and best possible alternative under the given conditions. “All entreaties to check criminalisation in politics have fallen on deaf ears. It has been good 14-15 years when it was on court orders that candidates had to declare their criminal records. Nothing has been done by legislators ever since even to bar those charged with heinous crimes. The SC wants people to at least be well informed of those they are voting for

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