In an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, Election Commission of India (ECI) has supported de-criminalization of politics, but refrained from making any further assertions on the issue of barring convicted politicians from forming political parties. The submissions were made in response to a Petition filed by BJP leader and Advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, who has also sought directions to the ECI to decriminalize politics and ensure inner-party democracy.
In its affidavit, ECI, in fact, submitted that it has been seeking de-criminalization of politics since 1998, when it had sent a proposal to the Centre for the same. The recommendations were also re-iterated in its proposed electoral reforms published in July, 2004 and December, 2016.
It then submitted, "In view of the above, it is submitted herein that the Election Commission of India has actively taken steps for decriminalization of politics, and has also made recommendations in that regard. However, any further steps to effectively decriminalize politics would require legislative amendments, which is beyond the scope of the Election Commission of India."
ECI also sought power to de-register political parties, submitting, "...it is unequivocally submitted herein that the Election Commission of India should be given powers to de-register a political party and, further, should be authorized to issue necessary orders regulating registration and de-registration of political parties, particularly in view of its constitutional mandate."
It further pointed out that Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 allows ECI the discretion to decide whether or not to register political parties. The power to de-register the parties, it said, was first suggested by the Chief Election Commissioners in a letter written to the Law Minister in July, 1998. The proposal was reiterated in July, 2004. The ECI therefore asserted that empowering it to de-register parties is an essential electoral reform.
It further informed the Court that the ECI had, in 2016, of its own accord, launched an initiative to review the cases of such registered unrecognized political parties, which did not set up any candidate at any of the General Elections. On verification, it 'de-listed' or deleted the names of 255 political parties from its list.
Furthermore, while averring that "inner party democracy is absolutely essential in a country such as ours", it submitted that such democracy cannot be ensured by ECI and would require legislative amendments.