The Supreme Court’s directive to political parties aimed at checking the growing criminalization of politics is significant because it brings the larger issue of electoral reforms to clean up politics under the spotlight.

“In this judgment, this court was cognizant of the increasing criminalization of politics in India and the lack of information about such criminalization amongst the citizenry," the apex court said.

The top court largely laid the onus on political parties for publicizing information on candidates who have criminal charges against them, along with the reasons for choosing them and also for rejecting others with clean records.

Significantly, it gave the Election Commission the responsibility of flagging non-compliance to the apex court.

The development is a step forward for electoral reforms, but a lot more needs to be done to stamp out criminalization of politics, experts said. The Supreme Court needs to bring in the option of barring candidates with criminal antecedents from contesting elections, they said.

“It is a step forward for electoral reforms but still halfway from cleaning up the system. They have basically culled out the 2018 order with stronger wording and time-bound compliance," said former chief election commissioner (CEC) S.Y. Quraishi. He likened the move to the health warnings on cigarette packets, which inform rather than deter.

“The right to contest is not a fundamental right. There is no reason why it cannot be suspended under certain circumstances such as criminal cases pending against contestants," Quraishi said. Given the scale of the problem, the apex court should give directions on barring candidates facing criminal charges, said Jagdeep Chhokar, a founding member of New Delhi-based Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR). “I do not see these directions really having an impact. How does giving reasons online stop political parties from fielding such candidates or promote cleaner elections?" Chhokar asked.

“What we really need is a set of directions that lays down how candidates with specific criminal records with a certain time frame before elections may be barred from contesting. Unless that happens, not much will change, but who will bell the cat?" he asked.

The Election Commission has already taken a series of steps to discourage criminalization of politics, including making it mandatory for candidates to declare their criminal records in election affidavits as well as seizing cash and arms and ammunition during the election process.

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