There was unanimity on decriminalization of politics at a day-long session on electoral reforms here Saturday but sharp disagreement between politicians and legal luminaries on enlarging the scope of disqualification of sitting legislators or those aspiring to contest.
While the political participants batted for the status quo – that is disqualification only upon conviction, the legal experts felt that framing of the charges in the cases of serious offences by the court would be a reasonable stage for attracting disqualification.
Though most of the mainstream political parties and regional outfits stayed away from the National Consultation on Electoral Reforms, the representatives of Biju Janata Dal, Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India-Marxist, National Panther Party, and All India N.R. Congress favoured keeping to the existing statutory position.
However Law Commission’s former chief, Justice (retd.) B.P. Jeevan Reddy, present chief Justice (retd.) A.P.Shah, and eminent jurist Fali Nariman advocated enlarging the scope of disqualification.
On the other hand, senior counsel T.R.Andhyarujina voiced a note of caution against any step that may displace the normal presumption of innocence under Indian jurisprudence, describing as “thorny” the question at what stage of trial in criminal case disqualification would come into play.
“Framing of charges is not in any way indication of the guilt of the person,” he contended.
Earlier in a hard-hitting speech, Nariman said that filing of charge sheet by police was certainly not a stage for invoking the disqualification. But the framing of charges is a stage where there was judicial application of mind which gives rise to the prima facie presumption of guilt.
Justice (retd.) Jeevan Reddy said he was of the opinion that the field of disqualification of candidate “has to be enlarged by providing that candidate against whom charges have been framed for offences (whether under Indian Penal Code or any other enactment) punishable with death, imprisonment of life or imprisonment for ten years (with or without fine)”.
The event was organised by the Law Commission, which has been asked by the Supreme Court to give its views on the issue as well as disqualifying candidates filing false affidavits by the end of February.