Boot criminals out to avoid shoe attack: former chief justice

April 13th, 2009 - 1:02 pm ICT by IANS  

P. Chidambaram By Rana Ajit
New Delhi, April 13 (IANS) Former chief justice of India J.S. Verma has urged all political parties to boot criminals out of politics and not wait for “people to resort to radical and extra-legal measures” like lobbing shoes at them. He has now started a civil society campaign for crime-free politics.

Justice Verma recently shot off letters, duly signed by over 200 individuals including former judges, lawyers, bureaucrats, academics and media professionals, to top leaders of various political parties, urging them not to field candidates with criminal antecedents.

“Do we have to understand that unless people resort to radical and extra-legal measures such as this”, they will not hear? asked Verma.

“Surely the civil society cannot resort to violent means, but hopefully this should not make politicians continue to ignore its concerns,” Verma told IANS in an interview.

Jarnail Singh, a journalist of Hindi daily Dainik Jagran, had hit the headlines after he lobbed a shoe at Home Minister P. Chidambaram during a press conference at the Congress headquarters here April 7 to protest the candidatures of Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar for the Lok Sabha polls. Tytler and Kumar, both accused of involvement in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, were later dropped as candidates.

Industrialist and Congress MP Naveen Jindal also faced a shoe attack when a retired school teacher hurled a footwear at him inside the Congress office premises in Haryana’s Kurukshetra town Friday.

Justice Verma, however, admits that a mere appeal by civil society to oust criminals from political parties might not have the desired impact, specially during the charged atmosphere ahead of the polls. But he hoped the message would percolate down to people, who could avoid voting for candidates with a criminal background.

He conceded that the failure of the prevalent electoral laws in tackling criminalisation of politics was largely due to the judiciary deciding cases at snail’s pace. And he said that he favoured tightening electoral laws to bar people with criminal antecedents from running for polls.

The prevalent electoral laws bar people from contesting elections after being convicted in criminal cases entailing jail terms for two years or more. A convict is not allowed to contest elections from the date of his conviction till six years after his release after serving the full sentence.

Verma favoured amending the law to bar a person from contesting elections “if a court has framed charges against him for his alleged role in criminal offences of heinous nature like rape, murder, kidnapping, terrorism, smuggling etc”.

“Having a law to ban people from contesting elections after a court has framed charges against him (after finding preliminary evidence of his role in committing the crime) would be quite advisable,” Verma said.

Proposals to enact such laws made in 2002 and 2004 have fallen prey to the lack of political consensus.

Politicians unequivocally oppose such laws resorting to the judicial dictum of ‘innocent-unless-convicted’, fearing that such laws would bar many of their prominent leaders, who have cases against them, from contesting polls.

Others fear that ruling parties, on the eve of elections, could slap false cases against potentially winning opposition candidates to prevent them from contesting.

But framing of charges by a court is an advanced stage of a criminal trial, which is different from registration of a case or what is called a first information report (FIR) by the police, pointed out Justice Verma.

An FIR merely contains the allegations by the complainant or the victim. The police probe and verify the authenticity of the allegations in the FIR and then file a chargesheet in court, enlisting the evidence.

The court subsequently examines the evidence and decides whether to frame charges or not.

Verma said several safeguards can be incorporated in such laws to ensure they are not misused by anyone against their political adversaries.

One such safeguard may be that a person is prevented from contesting elections only if the court has framed charges against him/her at least six months before the date of filing the nomination, say electoral law experts.

This would ensure that a person is not falsely implicated by opponents ahead of elections as there is generally a gap of at least six months to a year between the police registering a case and a court framing charges.

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