Polity & Governance Prelims cum Mains

How a change in law has made election candidates more accountable?

Why in news?

  • Recently, the government has issued a notification making it mandatory for nominees to declare their Permanent Account Number (PAN), income tax returns of the last five years, details of foreign assets , as well as the same details for their spouse and dependents.
  • This was done by amending Form 26.

 

What is Form 26?

  • Form 26 is an affidavit, that has to be filed along with the nomination papers. It should be sworn before an Oath Commissioner or Magistrate of the First Class or before a Notary Public.
  • Form 26 furnishes information on the candidate’s assets, liabilities, educational qualifications, criminal antecedents (convictions and all pending cases) and public dues, if any.
  • It is the responsibility of the Returning Officer (RO) to check whether Form 26 has been completed, the nomination paper can be rejected if the candidate fails to fill it in full.

Objective:

  • Form 26 helps voters make an informed decision.
  • The affidavit would make them aware of the criminal activities of a candidate, which could help prevent people with questionable backgrounds from being elected to an Assembly or Parliament. With the recent amendment, voters will know the extent to which a serving MP’s income grew during his five years in power.

 

Historical background of Form 26

  • In 1999, the 170th Law Commission report suggested steps for preventing criminals from entering electoral politics. One of the suggestions was to disclose the criminal antecedents as well as the assets of a candidate before accepting her nomination.
  • However, the then government did not act on the recommendation, leading to public interest litigation in Delhi High Court.
  • In 2000, the HC directed the Election Commission to secure information on the criminal background of the candidate if any, her assets as well as those of her spouse and dependents and any other information the EC considers necessary.
  • The Union government appealed in the Supreme Court against the Delhi High Court orders .
  • In 2002, the SC gave its verdict in favour of the HC directions with few more details addition:
    • whether the candidates have been convicted/acquitted/discharged of any criminal offence in the past, or
    • accused in any pending cases six months before the filing of nomination,
    • details of assets and liabilities of a candidate, her spouse and dependents, and
    • the educational qualifications of the candidate.
  • Later, Election Commission also issued an order to implement the verdict.
  • However, the Union government promulgated an Ordinance diluting the EC’s order.
  • The amendment was declared as null and void by the SC.
  • The EC then issued a fresh order in 2003, seeking information on all points mentioned in the SC order 2002.
  • The recent notification in this regard was issued by the Law Ministry as per the recommendation made by Election Commission. It said that the changes have introduced in Form 26

 

Before amendment

  • Earlier, a candidate had to only declare the last Income tax return for self, spouse and dependents, educational qualification and criminal antecedents.

Changes after amendment

  • The amendment has made it mandatory for candidates to reveal their own income-tax returns of the last five years and the details of offshore assets, as well as the same details for their spouse and dependents; educational qualification and criminal antecedents.
  • The “Offshore assets” means details of all deposits or investments in foreign banks and any other body or institution abroad and details of all assets and liabilities in foreign countries.

 

What if the affidavit is false?

    • If it is the candidate suppressed information or lied in her affidavit, the complainant can seek an inquiry through an election petition.
    • If the court finds the affidavit false, the candidate’s election can be declared void.
    • The current penalty for lying in an affidavit is imprisonment up to six months, or fine, or both.
    • In 2018, the Election Commission had asked the government to make the filing of a false affidavit a “corrupt practice” under the election law, which would make the candidate liable for disqualification for up to six years. But nothing has been done by the government on this front.
Section : Polity & Govern

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