The Hindu

‘Law needed to monitor selection of party candidates'

Thirty-five per cent of the MLAs elected in the recently concluded Assembly elections in West Bengal have criminal cases pending against them as against an average of 33 per cent of those in the four other States that underwent Assembly elections, according to the National Election Watch (NEW).

The other States are Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and the Union Territory Pondicherry.

Nine Ministers sworn in to the newly-formed Cabinet had criminal cases pending against them.

“West Bengal is much ahead of the other four States when it comes to [having elected] MLAs who have serious criminal charges such as murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping and theft, among others, pending against them. There are 75 such elected MLAs in the State now,” NEW founder-member Trilochan Sastry said at a press conference here on Thursday.

Sixty-nine of the 184 elected Trinamool Congress candidates have criminal cases pending against them, as do 17 of the 42 Congress MLAs and seven of the 40 Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLAs.

The Cabinet members who have pending criminal cases are Law Minister Moloy Ghatak, School Education Minister Rabindranath Bhattacharya, Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim, Fire and Emergency Services Minister Javed Khan, Public Health Engineering Minister Subrata Mukherjee, Housing Minister Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Self-Help Group and Self-employment Minister Shantiram Mahato and Mass Education Extension Minister Abdul Karim Chowdhury.

The Trinamool's nominee for the post of Deputy Speaker, Sonali Guha, too has pending criminal charges.

Mr. Sastry said that this trend necessitated a law that would debar persons with pending criminal cases to contest in elections and keep a check on the functioning of all democratic parties and their process of choosing candidates.

Although civil rights activists had lauded the efforts of the Election Commission in conducting free and fair elections, questions were raised about the health of the democracy in the State, where paramilitary forces had to be deployed to ensure peaceful polls.

According to figures compiled by the West Bengal Election Watch, an initiative of multi-stakeholders of civil society, the average asset growth of 52 re-elected MLAs was 117 per cent, while 11 per cent of the total 294 MLAs were crorepatis.

Despite having made tall promises about women's participation in the democratic process, the major parties fared poorly when it came to actually giving out tickets to woman candidates.

134 of 1,263 candidates to contest the elections were women. 34 of them emerged victorious. Keywords: West Bengal legislative members, criminal records, criminalisation of politics

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