A third of India legislators face charges: group

By Siddhartha Kumar ,dpa

NEW DELHI — More than one-third of the candidates elected in India’s recent state elections are currently facing criminal charges, an independent watchdog said Monday. A total of 242 of the 690 politicians who made it to state assemblies, or 35 percent, had a “criminal background,” the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) said, referring to legislators involved in ongoing cases.

More than 100 those were charged with serious offences “including murder, robbery and extortion,” the association’s Nilesh Ekka said. State elections were recently held in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa.

The north-eastern state of Manipur was the only one where none of the new legislators was currently facing criminal charges, Ekka said. The figures in the other four states were up 8 percent from the last state elections in 2007, the ADR said. The highest proportion of legislators facing charges, 47 percent, was in Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s poorest and most lawless states.

A guilty verdict does not always spell the end of a politician’s career in India, where only convicts sentenced to two years in prison or more are barred from running for office.

Also, politicians already in office when convicted are allowed to keep that office during any appeal, which can take years to go through India’s sclerotic judicial system. “One of the biggest changes (would be) to bring about fast-track courts,” said IC Dwivedi, an ADR observer for Uttar Pradesh. “Many such cases have been pending for a long time.”