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Amendment to Representation of People Act
Draft bill silent on finances, education of candidates

Right at the beginning of parliament’s monsoon session, the Union Law Ministry has circulated a six-page draft bill seeking to amend Representation of People Act ostensibly to accommodate the Supreme Court’s view expressed on May 2 that candidates seeking election should reveal some crucial information regarding themselves to the electorate.

Following the court’s observations the Election Commission came out with rules demanding disclosure of financial assets, education, and criminal antecedents (if any) by candidates.

The bill seeks to debar candidates charged with "heinous" crimes from fighting elections. The "heinous" crimes are possibly murder, rape and offences under Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). The candidate has to be involved in two separate cases of heinous crimes to attract disqualification.

What worries rights groups is that POTA can be unjustly used against political adversaries to debar them from contesting election. The case of Vaiko is a clear example of such misuse.

The bill is silent on the requirement for candidates to declare their financial assets. This was a significant component of EC rules as it is common knowledge that many politicians amass huge assets within a short period of their winning elections. The Supreme Court had desired that assets should be declared by politicians seeking election.

To begin with, Members of Parliament across the political spectrum had taken the EC directive as an interference in what was the legislative domain. The EC insistence on declaration of a candidate’s educational qualifications also did not go well with the MPs. Hence, there is no mention of it in the bill.

To the credit of Indian democracy, the caste, class and ethnic composition of Indian Parliament has improved over the decades. The standards of education of MPs too have been consistently improving. However, they are still not confident about the level of education among the class trying to enter state and central legislatures.

If the bill is passed, its provisions would be effective retrospectively from May 2, 2002, the day the apex court made the observations regarding reforms in electoral law.

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