Times of India
New Delhi

NEW DELHI: Justice J S Verma panel has recommended changes not just in laws but sought to alter the profile of lawmakers elected to Parliament and state legislatures. In a slew of suggestions aimed at stemming criminalization of politics, the committee has proposed amendments to the electoral laws to enable disqualification of tainted MPs/MLAs upon a court taking cognizance of certain offences against them, or if an elected representative furnishes a false affidavit at the time of filing his nomination.

The panel, in its report presented on Wednesday, recommended amendment to Section 8(1) of the Representation of People Act (RPA) to enable the disqualification of MPs/MLAs against whom a court has framed charges not only for heinous offences but also under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Incidentally, data released by the Association for Democratic Rights (ADR) on Wednesday said seven MPs and 29 MLAs had declared pending corruption cases in their affidavits. Political parties fielded 98 such candidates in polls over the last five years.

The Verma panel also took a serious view of the false affidavits furnished by candidates along with their nomination papers. The Committee suggested amendment to Section 33A of the RPA to provide for declaration regarding a pending criminal case in the candidate's affidavit. A certificate from the Registrar of the High Court would be required for validity of the nomination.

As for assets and liabilities declared by the candidate, the panel suggested that these be verified by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). Were the CAG to find the information false, it shall report the same to the Election Commission, which will then move the President for his disqualification. A new section 8(B) in the RPA may provide for such disqualification.

The Verma panel's recommendations on Section 8 are, incidentally, is in line with the EC's recommendation that an elected representative be disqualified if a court takes cognizance of an offence, punishable with a minimum five years' imprisonment. Such an MP/MLA would stand disqualified from the date of his conviction to six years after his release.

Making a case for decriminalization of politics, the panel cited the data — sourced from ADR — that put the number of 'tainted' members elected from across 7,887 parliamentary and assembly seats over the last decade at 2,468. "Where 31% of the electoral college has either been charged or convicted, a fundamental attribute of morality which is inherent to discharging public functions stands seriously impaired," it observed.

The existing law provides for disqualification of MPs/MLAs if convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more. The disqualification does not take effect in case an appeal is filed against the conviction.

Under Section 125 A, a candidate found to have furnished a false affidavit is punishable a prison sentence of up to six months.

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