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Cases against politicos must be fast-tracked: Law minister

January 30, 2013 16:49 IST

The Verma panel's recommendation for disqualification of candidates against whom criminal charges have been framed has found little favour with Law Minister Ashwani Kumar who instead wants fast-tracking of such cases, preferably to be decided by a lower court within 18 months.

The law minister said he has had preliminary discussion with Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath on the issue of electoral reforms and the Law Commission has been asked to submit "concrete suggestions" on the issue by April.

Kumar said the government would "vigorously take forward" the discussion with political parties to forge a broad political consensus and then bring in the requisite legislation where necessary.

Talking about the recommendation of Justice J S Verma Committee, he said there are "strong arguments on both sides" with regard to the suggestion for disqualification of candidates against whom charges have been framed in cases having minimum punishment of five years.

"Personally speaking, I believe we will have to address the dichotomy between the number of cases in which charges have been registered and the number of cases in which actual conviction has been possible," he told PTI in an interview.

He was asked whether a person should be debarred from contesting elections if charges are framed as recommended by the Verma committee or the present law should apply under which a candidate can be prohibited from contesting only if convicted with minimum two year's imprisonment.

The law minister said those arguing that it is dangerous to deny a man the right to contest elections without even a court convicting him or finding a person guilty on the basis of evidence have "a strong appeal amongst a section" of the political establishment.

"Therefore, all these factors will have to be considered before we move forward," Kumar said.

When pointed out that convictions take a long time, Kumar said, "The answer then is to make sure that such cases are decided within a specified timeframe.

"That is in my view a good via media if we can ensure that such case are in fact decided by at least the first court within one year or 18 months after going through the principles of natural justice. Then this charge that convictions take ever and ever may not hold good."

The law minister has had a preliminary discussion with the chief election commissioner on the issue of electoral reforms.

He has also asked the Law Commission to submit "concrete suggestions" on possible electoral reforms by April so that the government can "vigorously take forward" the discussion with political parties to forge a broad political consensus and then bring in the requisite legislation where necessary.

"It has now become an urgent necessity to weed out undesirable elements with criminal antecedents from within our electoral system. It is also critically important that we eliminate the influence of money and muscle power from the electoral system," he said.

Kumar noted that the health of India's democracy is based substantially on the functioning of the elective processes.

"The processes must ensure that the finest people are elected as people's representatives and that the elections are not unduly influenced by the excessive use of money and muscle power," he said.

The three-member committee, headed by former Chief Justice of India Justice J S Verma, was set up to give recommendations on amending the law to deal effectively with cases of sexual assault against women in the wake of the brutal gangrape and assault of a 23-year-old in Delhi on December 16 last. The victim died in a Singapore hospital on December 29.

Image: Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar

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