Need to check criminalisation of politics, Centre tells SC

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New Delhi : The Centre on Thursday conceded that the stage has come to stop criminalisation of politics by barring persons facing criminal charges from entering the legislatures, but it told the Supreme Court to let Parliament take a call instead of judiciary.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal suggested the constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra to fix a time-limit for three stages after the filing of the charger-sheet: framing of charges, application for discharge and appeal before the High court for quashing the charges.

There is already a penal provision that mandates that the charge-sheet be filed within 90 days of the registration of FIR.

Attorney General (AG) was responding to the observation by Chief Justice Misra that it is the demand of the society that Parliament amend the law to check criminalisation of politics.

Besides Chief Justice Misra, the other judges on the bench are Justice Rohinton Fali Narman, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra.

Giving vent to misgivings on the ability of a lawmakers charged with criminal offence to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law, Justice Chandrachud asked as to how a politician charged with murder can uphold the Constitution and the rule of law.

To assuage the apprehension of AG Venugopal on the court embarking on proactive course, Justice Nariman said, "There is a Lakshmanrekha here. We only declare law, legislature makes law."

Referring to the contention of senior counsel Dinesh Dwivedi that at least 34% of the lawmakers in Parliament and the State legislatures face criminal charges and also dispelling the apprehension of the Attorney General, Chief Justice Misra said: "We don't want to legislate on the subject, we want Parliament to do it."

Dwivedi appeared for the petitioner NGO Public Interest Foundation.

"It is a serious issue. We have to remind Parliament that it has constitutional obligation to amend Article 102 (e). We say this as conscience keeper of the Constitution", CJI Misra told the Attorney General Venugopal.

Urging the court to frame guidelines to check the entry of criminals in the electoral fray, Dwivedi told the bench that "When the constitution is in difficulty, the court has to come forward."

The senior counsel Venugopal urged the court to take upon itself and frame guidelines to check the entry of people with criminal antecedent in politics till Parliament enacts a law.

Referring to Vohra Committee report on criminalisation of politics and of the nexus among criminals, politicians and bureaucrats, the Law Commission report and the recommendation of the Election Commission, Krishnan Venugopal told the bench that none of the report and recommendations has been acted upon by Parliament.

The constitution bench is hearing a reference by a three-judge bench on the question "Whether disqualification for membership can be laid down by the court beyond Article 102(a) to (d) and the law made by Parliament under Article 120(e)."

The reference was made on March 8, 2016 by a three-judge bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Prafulla C. Pant. Justice Pant has since retired.

The petitioner NGO has contended that a politician should be disqualified from the electoral politics against whom charges have been framed by trial courts for heinous offences.

Senior counsel Dinesh Dwivedi will continue his arguments on August 14.