The Supreme Court (SC) has said that providing false information about electoral Candidates’ Qualifications is not a Corrupt Practice under the RPA (Representation of People’s Act) Act 1951.
- The SC observed that no one in India votes for a candidate based on their educational qualifications.
What is the Case all About?
- The SC was hearing a petition, challenging a 2017 Allahabad High Court ruling, which held that declaration of false information pertaining to education qualification does not interfere with the free exercise of electoral rights of the electors.
- The petition said that the electoral candidate committed a “corrupt practice” under Section 123(2) by interfering in the free exercise of electoral rights of the voters by not disclosing his liabilities and correct educational qualifications in his affidavit of nomination.
- It also argued that a “corrupt practice” under Section 123(4) was committed by the candidate in publishing a false statement of fact about his character and conduct to influence the outcome of his election, knowingly.
- The SC declared the Petition as “null and void”, saying that providing false information about a candidate’s qualifications cannot be considered a “Corrupt Practice” under Sections 123 (2) and Section 123 (4) of the RPA, 1951.
What are ‘Corrupt Practices’ under the RPA, 1951?
- Section 123 of the Act:
- It defines ‘corrupt practices’ to include bribery, undue influence, false information, and promotion or attempted promotion of “feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes of the citizens of India on grounds of religion, race, caste, community, or language” by a candidate for the furtherance of his prospects in the election.
- Section 123 (2):
- It deals with ‘undue influence’ which it defines as “any direct or indirect interference or attempt to interfere on the part of the candidate or his agent, or of any other person, with the consent of the candidate or his election agent, with the free exercise of any electoral right.”
- This could also include threats of injury, social ostracism and expulsion from any caste or community.
- Section 123 (4):
- It extends the ambit of “corrupt practices” to the intentional publication of false statements which can prejudice the outcome of the candidate’s election.
- Under the provisions of the Act, an elected representative can be disqualified if convicted of certain offences; on the grounds of corrupt practices; for failing to declare election expenses; and for interests in government contracts or works.
What Practices has the Court held as Corrupt Practices in the Past?
- Abhiram Singh v C.D. Commachen Case:
- In 2017, the SC in ‘Abhiram Singh v C.D. Commachen held that an election will be annulled if votes are sought in the name of a candidate’s religion, race, caste, community, or language, as per Section 123 (3) which prohibits the same.
- SR Bommai v. Union of India:
- In 1994, the Supreme Court’s ruling in ‘SR Bommai v. Union of India’, said that the encroachment of religion into secular activities is strictly prohibited, citing subsection (3) of Section 123 of the RPA Act, 1951.
- S. Subramaniam Balaji vs State of Tamil Nadu:
- In 2022, the SC reconsidered its 2013 judgment in ‘S. Subramaniam Balaji vs the State of Tamil Nadu’ held that promises of freebies could not be termed corrupt.
- However, the matter is still yet to be decided.
What is the Representation of the People Act 1951?
- It regulates the conduct of elections.
- It specifies the qualifications and disqualifications for membership in the houses,
- It provides provisions to curb corrupt practices and other offences.
- It lays down the procedure for settling doubts and disputes arising from elections.
- The act is significant for the smooth functioning of Indian democracy as it bars the entry of persons with criminal backgrounds into representative bodies, thus decriminalizing Indian politics.
- The act requires every candidate to declare his assets and liabilities, and maintain an account of election expenses. This provision ensures the accountability and transparency of the candidate in the use of public funds or misuse of power for personal benefits.
- It prohibits corrupt practices like booth capturing, bribery or promoting enmity etc., which ensures the legitimacy and free & fair conduct of elections which is essential for the success of any democratic setup.
- The act provides that only those political parties which are registered under section 29A of the RPA Act,1951 are eligible to receive electoral bonds, thus providing a mechanism to track the source of political funding and ensuring transparency in electoral funding.