Litmus test for a judicial clean-up order
Topic: Governance/Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
For Prelims: Muscle and money power in the political system and issues arising out of it.
For Mains: Criminization in the Political System and suggestive measures of it.
Why in news?
- Supreme Court judgment, by Justices R.F. Nariman and S. Ravindra Bhat, marks an important and possibly far-reaching step towards reining in the political establishment as far as fielding candidates with criminal antecedents is concerned.
- This judgment goes well beyond the Court’s earlier orders of 2002 and 2003 that made it obligatory for all candidates to provide self-sworn affidavits of criminal cases pending against them in any court of law.
- While the judgments of 2002 and 2003 were important, and emanated after a prolonged struggle by the Association for Democratic Reforms, they did not have the desired impact on either the political establishment or indeed on voter choices: the present Lok Sabha has an all-time high of 43% of its members having one or more criminal cases against them.
- By virtue of this order, the Court has also shifted part of the onus on political parties, ruling that they must do much more to publicize the criminal antecedents of candidates that they have selected to contest both parliamentary and State Assembly elections. It would no longer be sufficient to cite “winnability” as the criterion.
- Citing figures of the alarming increase in the number of such persons selected as candidates across the political spectrum, the order asks parties contesting elections to henceforth explain why persons without criminal blemish could not have been chosen
Muscle and money power in political system:
- In the years thereafter, “muscle” and “money” power, which have became the bane of our political system. Indeed “money” power has moved us in the direction of a plutocracy.
- Both these two ills need urgent course correction, preferably from within the Executive itself. It surely cannot augur well for us that criminality within Parliament grew from 24% in 2004 to 30% in 2009, to 34% in 2014 and 43%in 2019.
- Almost half these cases were/are for alleged heinous offences such as murder, attempt to murder, rape and kidnapping.
Extent of offence:
- In turn, political parties and candidates have often voiced their concern that cases tend to be foisted on them by political opponents.
- When the Election Commission of India (ECI) recommended to the government that legislation was warranted to exclude those candidates against whom charges had been framed by a court of law for heinous offences punishable by imprisonment of five years and more.
- The Parliamentary Committee that had been set up to examine the proposal unanimously ruled against the ECI recommendation; perhaps the most vociferous voice was that of the late legal luminary, Ram Jethmalani, who was a member of the committee. He pointed out that he had dealt with many such cases arising out of political vendetta.
FIR against politicians:
- Of course, not all first information reports lodged against political players are criminal in intent. The violation of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure as a result of civil protest is one such example.
- The case of a Medha Patkar or other social activists can hardly be considered criminal. Which is why the ECI, for over two long decades, has addressed various Prime Ministers to pass legislation on the ground that charges framed by a court of law for only heinous offences, and cases registered (not on the anvil of elections, but up to one year prior) would amount to a “reasonable restriction” and that such a person be barred from contest. But so far to no avail.
Voter behaviour towards Criminal candidates:
- Although the recent judgment has decreed that political parties will give much wider publicity to the criminal antecedents of their candidates, it is possible that this alone may not suffice. Voter behaviour is most often conditioned by their own immediate needs.
- The distribution of “freebies”, for instance, was often a one-way street, of candidates “offering” money and goodies. Voter behaviour has since begun to change. Voters now often enough tend to demand money and freebies.
- With our criminal justice system clogged with cases and lawyers fees often far beyond what many can afford, the local “don” standing for elections, who promises delivery of rough and ready justice, is often seen as the messiah on hand.
- All too often these cases involve bread and butter issues, from land and irrigation dispute resolution, to matters involving family honour. In such cases this “Robin Hood’ contestant is actually a preferred choice, which helps to explain that where muscle, and money get combined in the rural landscape, they often win by large margins.
- In the 1970s and 1980s, the “don” was content to support the local political bigwig with his muscle, crowd-pulling capacity and money, hoping that once elections were over, the elected leader would help the “don” in turn, not least to help wipe out his string of cases.
- Not all such players were men: witness the life and death of Phoolan Devi who came into political power on the power of a gun, and faded out too in the same manner.
Suggested measure to curb criminalization of politics:
- Bringing transparency in campaign financing is going to make it less attractive for political parties to involve gangsters.
- The Election Commission of India (ECI) should have the power to audit the financial accounts of political parties, or political parties’ finances should be brought under the right to information (RTI) law.
- Broader governance will have to improve for voters to reduce the reliance on criminal politicians.
- Fast-track courts are necessary because politicians are able to delay the judicial process and serve for decades before prosecution.
- The Election Commission must take adequate measures to break the nexus between the criminals and the politicians.
- The forms prescribed by the Election Commission for candidates disclosing their convictions, cases pending in courts and so on in their nomination papers is a step in the right direction if it applied properly.
- So far whatever significant electoral reforms have taken place have emanated from the Supreme Court. For critics of this present order, None of the Above (NOTA) and the July 10, 2013 Order in the Lily Thomas vs. Union of India case, wherein a parliamentarian or legislator convicted of an offence that leads to a sentence of two years and more will be debarred from contesting an election for six years after his or her prison term ends.
- It remains to be seen how the recent judgment will affect the choices of the political establishment and whether it will have the desired effect in eliminating or significantly purging criminality from future legislatures.
Asleep at the wheel
Paper: GS-II & GS-III
Topic: Management of Social sector & Services/ Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, And Railways etc.
For Prelims: Road Safety and Motor Vehicle Act, 2019
For Mains: Initiatives and Implementations taken by the Government.
Why in news?
- There is a crash that killed 19 bus passengers on a national highway, at Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu, comes as a shock.
Road Safety: An overview
- Every day, thousands board government-run and private buses for inter-city travel, placing their lives in the hands of transport operators and the authorities whose duty it is to guarantee road safety.
- Unfortunately, Central and State officials feel little compulsion to do their duty when it comes to road safety.
- Those whose lives were snuffed out on the journey from Bengaluru to Ernakulam in a Kerala government bus should not become faceless additions to the list of fatalities on Indian roads.
The Road Accident:
- In 2018, that toll was a staggering 1,51,417 lives. A preliminary inquiry points to human error involving the container lorry driver who is suspected to have fallen asleep at the wheel.
- The probe is also looking at whether the container was overloaded, and lacked an assistant. It is reasonable to assume that a helper would alert a driver to danger.
- Whatever the proximate factors, the Tiruppur crash highlights the gap that India must bridge before it can hope to bring down road fatalities by at least half during the current decade.
Statistics of the Road Accidents:
- The latest World Bank assessment of India’s loss from road accidents, which was released at the Stockholm meet, points out that road user between 18-45 years constitute 69% of fatalities.
- Also, 54% of deaths and serious injuries occur mainly among vulnerable groups: pedestrians, cyclists and two-wheeler riders.
- In the Bank’s estimate, it will take an additional $109-billion of investment in 10 years to achieve a 50% reduction in road deaths.
Initiatives taken by the Government:
- In fact, India is committed to achieving such a reduction under the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, and the promise was reiterated by Union Transport Minister recently, at the Third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, at Stockholm.
- In spite of amendments made to the Motor Vehicles Act, and new engineering standards enforced for vehicle safety, the risk on the roadsis on the rise.
- State governments responsible for enforcement remain apathetic and their derelict bureaucracies ignore safety laws in cities and highways.
- The cost of such indifference is borne by families of victims in the form of bereavement, loss of income and enduring trauma. Moreover, the economy is deprived of productivity and output.
- Union Minister has focused on removing dangerous ‘black spots’ on highways, making consultants and contractors liable for road conditions, and imposing stiffer penalties for traffic offences.
- The amended MV Act makes all this possible, but many State governments have baulked at enforcing it.
- It is imperative that the Centre forms an empowered Road Safety Boardat the national level to advise States on all related concerns as envisaged under the MV Act, and makes State enforcement agencies accountable for safety.
The Motor Vehicle Act, 2019:
- Parliament passed the Motor Vehicles Act 2019 in July and it took effect as a law on 1st September 2019with an aim is to reduce road accidents and save human lives.
- The new legislation made significant changes to how India’s roads are governed.
- Road construction standards were changed.
- Insurance norms tweaked and most importantly fines for traffic violations were increased.
- From higher penalties for driving errors to imprisonment up to a month for speeding and up to six months for accidents.
Provisions under the Act:
- For violating traffic rules:
- For not wearing a helmet, the fine has been raised from 100 Rs. to 1000 Rs. in addition to a three months’ disqualification of license.
- For not wearing a seat belt, the penalty is now 1000 Rs.
- For Speeding or raising the fine has been increased from 5, 00 Rs. to 5,000 Rs and for drunk and driving from 2,000 Rs. to 10,000 Rs.
- It includes imprisonment for severe crimes like; speed racing can attract imprisonment for three months with or without fine. This will extend to one year if caught for the second time.
- For offences by Juvenile:
- The guardian or owner of the vehicle shall be deemed to be guilty and punished with a 25,000 Rs. fine and three years imprisonment.
- The juvenile would be tried under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 and the registration of the motor vehicle will be cancelled for 12 months.
- Other rules:
- Owners of the vehicle who alter it by way of retrofitting of motor vehicle parts in a manner not permitted under the Act shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months and all with fine of 5,000 Rs. per alteration.
- These penalties will be increased by 10% every year on April 1.
- The new act has also extended the renewal of Driving License from a month to 1 year after the date of expiry.
- The act also promises to protect those who render emergency medical or non-medical assistance to a victim of an accident from any civil or criminal liability.
- The minimum compensation for death/grievous injury due to hit-n-run has been moved up substantially.
- Soon after the new act took effect, a traffic violation is dropped sharply across states. In national capital, a 66% reduction in traffic violations was recorded in September compared to the previous year.
- For better enforcement of the law, the government also installs speed cameras and in-vehicles sensors but experts say five key areas need more attention improving road safety management, developing driving safe infrastructure, safer cars, changing road user behavior and improving post-accident trauma care and management.
- A big reason for the rising road accident is underage driving. They are not only a hazard on the road for others. But also end up losing their own lives.
- In 2017 alone, over 130 underage drivers were killed in road accidents. In 2018, more than 1, 50,000 people lost their lives in road accidents i.e. ten times more than the fatalities in the 1970s.
- Nearly 75% of road accidents in India are caused by a driver’s mistake. It’s difficult to ascertain the exact number of road accidents caused by minors across the country but in Delhi, children as young as 10 years are sometimes caught driving.
- Delhi police traffic data shows that every passing year, offenders are getting younger. In 2018, 1228 challans were issued for underage driving while in 2017, the figure stood at 1067.
- In 2013, the average age of underage drivers was between 15 and 16 years, however the average age of all the violators have been between 13 and 14 years in the last five years.
Supreme Court’s verdict on underage driving:
- In 2008, the SC delivers a landmark verdict concerning minor drivers in India.
- The court said that parents must pay for minors causing accidents dramatically changing the position of governed by the Motor Vehicles Ac.
- The ruling pertains to an 11-year-old case. In 1997, a 15-year-old boy, Karan Arora, drove his father’s car and caused an accident killing one.
- The victim’s father filed an application seeking compensation of 10 lakh rupees. The minor offender father contested the claim.
- On 24th September, the SC ruled in favor of the victim’s father directing the insurance company to immediately pay up the compensation amount.
- This judgement not only brought to an end the 11-year-old litigation but it also came as the most practical deterrent for parents to not allow their minor children to drive.
- Road accidents can be decreased by showing more awareness of simple rules and regulations.
- Pedestrians should follow some rules while the administration must punish the offenders.
- At the same time the Indian roads congress must also update their design codes and conducting regular safety audits makes a huge difference in the country’s approach to road safety.