India court pressures Modi on 'criminal' cabinet ministers

The Supreme Court ruled that Modi should be left to choose his own cabinet


Afp August 27, 2014

NEW DELHI: India's top court said Monday lawmakers with criminal backgrounds should not serve in government, with 13 ministers facing charges for attempted murder, rioting and other offences.

The ruling is likely to put pressure on right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who swept to power this year pledging clean governance.

The Supreme Court ruled that Modi should be left to choose his own cabinet, but said it hoped the premier would ultimately take into account public expectations and India's democratic values.

"We leave it to the wisdom of the prime minister to see whether people with criminal backgrounds are appointed as ministers," Justice Dipak Misra told the court.

"Ultimately it is expected that people with criminal backgrounds should not be part of the council of ministers," said Misra, who headed a bench of five judges.

"Ultimately it is expected that the prime minister should consider and not choose a person with a criminal background and that is the constitution's expectation."

The court was handing down its judgement on a petition seeking to bar MPs with "criminal backgrounds", including those charged but not yet convicted of crimes, from being appointed ministers in state and federal governments.

The court said it could not disqualify such MPs from cabinet. India bans those convicted of serious crimes from holding office, not those facing charges.

Modi won a landslide election in May partly on a promise to clean up government after the previous Congress-led administration was plagued by corruption and other scandals.

Thirteen of Modi's 45 ministers have been charged with criminal offences, eight of those involving serious charges, according to the Delhi-based Association of Democratic Reforms, a clean government advocacy group.

Water Resources and Ganga Rejuvenation Minister Uma Bharti has 13 cases pending, including two charges related to attempted murder and six charges related to rioting, the association said.

MPs say charges against them are false or trumped up or levelled by political opponents seeking to harm their reputations.

MPs convicted of crimes have traditionally continued to hold office simply by filing an appeal in India's clogged and notoriously slow courts.

But in a landmark judgement last July, the Supreme Court ruled that MPs sentenced to more than three years in jail should be disqualified, regardless of any appeal.

COMMENTS (5)

Rakib | 7 years ago | Reply

@gp65: You say: (Supreme court’s direction appears to be that anyone accused of heinous crime must be presumed guilty until they are judged not guilty by the court. That is the exact opposite of how courts function all over the world.)

How did you come to this fantastic conclusion? If SC had practiced "opposite" of rest of the world Modi would have been in irons long back. SC refused to entertain the petition in current matter and left it only to the good sense of the PM of the day to appoint right ministers as per his wisdom. It's for PM to decide whether pendency of conviction constitutes not only absence of guilt, but also whether it causes negative image projection. That doesn't make PM a Super-Judge, just a person of wisdom. Should PM deny ministerial job to a woman who was undeniably aggressively involved in breaking of a place of worship but not so convicted yet? It's for him too to determine whether an improper conduct that is not a Case, not an offense in IPC, is still serious enough to warrant a second look. He is The Best, for you guys, better than rest isn't he, so accept nothing but the Best! If a Minister has misdeclared her educational qualifications more than once it may be an impropriety for EC but not a cognizable offense under IPC. Depending on his views on probity in public life should PM tolerate such a person in one of most sensitive ministry? May be yes, may be not. That becomes a matter of PM's wisdom. But then SC erred in expecting such wisdom from a man who himself is a beneficiary of lax morals & lazy system.

Who | 7 years ago | Reply

@Bewildered: More than any other PM Modi is under magnifying glass. That's because of a spate of rash promises he had made during campaigning. For example, on 5th May 2014, at Allahabad Narendra Modi swore that as soon as he is made the PM he will have affidavits submitted by all successful candidates to the Supreme Court so that SC can pronounce verdict within a year on all pending criminal cases against them. If they are disqualified he would gladly go for by-elections by the dozen. He included himself, "Agar Modi ke oopar bhi koi mukddama ho to woh bhi Supreme Court mein chalega, (if there is a case against Modi, it will also be tried in Supreme Court)." No such "fast track" approach to SC has been made at least with regard to those that are now his ministers. Apart from misleading his listeners about how criminal justice system works in India, he obviously didn't mean what he said.

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