Impact minimal

The Supreme Court’s advice to the prime minister and chief ministers to keep their ministries free of persons tainted by crime and corruption will be widely welcomed but its efficacy may be rightly questioned.

 The court refrained from issuing a directive to keep persons who face serious charges away from the ministries. This may be because it did not want to be seen as interfering with the prerogative of a prime minister or a chief minister to appoint persons of their choice as ministers. The court has faced criticism in the past for encroaching into the turfs of other organs of state. But the question is whether advice, which invokes high principles like constitutional morality and trust, would sway political leaders who have not cared much for them. 

The constitution bench wants the prime minister or the chief ministers to not choose as a minister a person against whom an FIR has been filed in serious cases of crime or corruption. It felt that the presumption that a person is innocent until proved guilty may not be applicable for those holding public offices, and  an FIR  framed by a court may be considered as showing a prima facie case. At present, there is no bar on appointing persons with a criminal past as a minister. But the court’s question whether it is prudent to leave the keys of a chest with one whose integrity is doubtful, is very relevant. So, it has left it to the wisdom of the prime minister or the chief ministers or to the sanctity of oath taken by them to ensure that those with bad antecedents are not part of their teams. 

But the advice will most certainly be lost on them.   Many chief ministers have themselves been corrupt. How can they keep their own ilk out? Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s  ministry has a number of persons who are facing serious criminal charges. Will he drop them? In coalition governments it is not the prime minister who decides the nominees of parties to the government. The basic problem is that political parties nominate people with criminal records as candidates in elections.

 The Election Commission has suggested that those against whom an FIR is registered one year before the elections should not be eligible to contest. But governments and parties have been cold to the idea. So, the court’s advice may not make much difference to the ministerial positions and prospects of corrupt and criminal politicians.

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