Electoral Reforms: Role of the Supreme Court of India

By Danish MC

The motto of the Supreme Court of India is Yato Dharma Tato Jaya which roughly translates to “where there is the truth, there will be victory” and it has been widely perceived by the public as the last hope of the common people. Supreme Court of India is the watchdog of our Constitution and the highest court of law in India. Other than its routine powers, it has the power of legislative, administrative and judicial review. Elections in India are often influenced by money and muscle power of the political parties and wealthy industrialists. Election Commission and the Supreme Court of India have played an important role in trying to reduce the influence of money and muscle power in elections in order to make elections more transparent and honest. It is of no doubt that we need a lot of electoral reforms and the legislature and executive has been lax in their duties to formulate and implement meaningful reforms. They have, at times, tried to undermine the electoral process some of which will be discussed later in the article. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has made up for these misdemeanors by legislature and executive.

One of the landmark judgment given by Supreme Court has been on the case of Union of India(UOI) vs Association for Democratic Reform(ADR)(2002). In this case, the Supreme Court directed the election commission to ask the candidates who are standing for elections for either State Legislature or Parliament to file an affidavit stating their financial position, criminal background and educational qualifications. This will help people to make an informed choice with respect to their representatives as well as motivate political parties to pick deserving candidates who are well reputed for elections. The Supreme Court had to intervene to make sure that its directive was followed since the Parliament tried to hoodwink the ruling by introducing an ordinance to amend The Representation of People Act, 1951 by adding section 33-B and further passing it in the Parliament to make it a law. The Supreme Court struck down the amendment on the basis that it was in violation of article 19(1)(a) for it sought to nullify court’s order in UOI vs ADR (2002) case. In Resurgence India v Election Commission of India (2013), Supreme Court ruled that “returning officer can reject nomination papers of a candidate for non-disclosure and suppression of information, including that of assets and their criminal background”. This was a huge boost for the proper implementation of the UOI vs ADR(2002) case.

In Union of India vs Ramesh Dalal (2005), the SC stated that a sitting Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) or Member of Parliament (MP) will be disqualified if they are found guilty of a crime and sentenced to more than 2 years of imprisonment. However, if the person who got convicted opts for appeal within 3 months, then he/she won’t be disqualified. In Lily Thomas vs. Union of India (2013) case, the Supreme Court ruled Section 8(4), which gave candidates relaxation from disqualification, to be void. As a consequence, the convicted MP or MLA will get disqualified immediately. 11 representatives (both MLAs and MPs) have lost their seats due to this as of now and hopefully, this will lead to better conduct by the representatives in the future.

None of the above (NOTA) button was introduced in the election due to a writ petition filed in Supreme Court by People’s Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL). This gave the common man the power to show his dissent against the candidates who are standing for elections by not voting for any of them. However, it is only a way to show your feedback and doesn’t nullify the victory of the candidate even if NOTA gets most votes. NOTA has improved the voter turnout and has even gotten more votes than many political parties. This will ensure that the message for empowerment and projection of good candidates reaches the political parties.

After the Emergency, Supreme Court has steadily increased its power over the years, at times even stepping on the toes of executive and legislature. This is often justified to the public by saying that the Supreme Court was “compelled” to act due to the inefficiency of legislature and executive, which is true at most times. India prides itself as the largest democracy in the world and it is not desirable for it to have a legislature and executive which are considered to be inferior to its judiciary. The Judiciary does have a long history of taking bold decisions and implementing them for the betterment of the nation which should be appreciated and nobody can deny its role in reforming the country whether it be electoral, moral or social. However, too much activism on the part of Judiciary shouldn’t be encouraged. We can see that most of the cases in which the Supreme Court had to intervene could have been solved amongst the legislature and executive if they were competent enough. The need of the hour is for legislature and executive to up their game because they should take care of their duties with integrity and honesty rising above politics for the betterment of the country so that Supreme Court is not forced to step into their shoes and make decisions on their behalf.

Danish MC is 3rd year BA(Hons.) Economics student at Jindal School of Government and Public Policy.


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One comment

  1. Though I agree that the Hon’ble SC has given landmark judgements to protect and empower democracy in India, yet a lot needs to be done even now. The latest introduction of electoral bonds and the opacity around them is worrying. Rather than fighting money power, it legitimizes it. Despite reservations of the ECI on electoral bonds, the SC has refused to stay these. In a country like ours, where economic disparity is one of highest, such unhindered interference of huge money is expected to influence fair and free elections.

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