Lawsuit on voters’ right to know details of candidates

April 14th, 2008 - 9:47 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, April 14 (IANS) Poll candidates have found a novel way to squirm out of a 2002 Supreme Court ruling that makes it mandatory for them to declare their personal data - leaving the column blank in their affidavits if they do not care to reveal some information. The apex court will Tuesday hear a petition against this loophole in the ruling. The petition, which is to come up for hearing before a bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice R.V. Raveendran, also seeks direction to remove the lacunae in the ruling.

The petition by Resurgence India, a non-governmental organisation, says that in order to conceal any controversial information that political candidates do not want to share, they have begun leaving the relevant columns in the affidavit accompanying their nomination papers blank.

Resurgence India discovered this during scrutiny of affidavits filed by candidates during the February 2007 assembly elections in Punjab.

The petitioner said it had then examined 388 affidavits of candidates belonging to six major political parties. It found that 369 of them had left various columns in their affidavits blank in a bid to conceal crucial information.

They maintained that the 369 candidates together concealed information about themselves on a whopping 1,451 counts, with each candidate on average hiding information on four counts.

The petitioner recalled that it was in May 2002 that the apex court had made it mandatory for candidates to disclose their educational qualifications, financial assets and liabilities including those of their wives and children and their personal criminal antecedents, if any.

For implementation of the apex court ruling, the Election Commission on June 28, 2002, amended the forms of its nomination papers and the affidavits to be annexed with it.

It also authorized the returning officers to reject the nomination paper in case the candidates did not fill their affidavits properly.

The poll panel order had then led to a hue and cry among politicians, who contended that a lowly clerk or bureaucrat cannot deprive a candidate of his Fundamental Right to contest an election after a summary scrutiny of their nomination papers.

The authenticity of the affidavits cannot be ascertained summarily, they contended.

This led the government to challenge the Election Commission order before the apex court, which divested the returning officer of the power to reject a nomination paper, saying that the authenticity of the information provided in the affidavits cannot be ascertained summarily.

This has led to candidates often leaving blank columns in their affidavits where they do not want to reveal any controversial information about themselves.

The Election Commission order as well as the Supreme Court ruling provides that those giving false information would be liable to be prosecuted.

But both the order and the court ruling are silent on what is to be done in case a candidate leaves some columns in his affidavit blank.

The petitioner has sought an answer from the apex court.

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