Updated: 08/28/2014 00:29 | By Agence France-Presse

India court pressures Modi on 'criminal' ministers

India's top court said Wednesday lawmakers with criminal backgrounds should not serve in government, with 13 ministers in the current administration facing charges for attempted murder, rioting and other offences.


India court pressures Modi on 'criminal' ministers

File photo of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivering a speech to mark the country's Independence Day in New Delhi, August 15, 2014 - by Prakash Singh

The ruling shines a spotlight on Narendra Modi and his cabinet after the right-wing prime minister swept to power this year pledging clean governance.

The Supreme Court ruled Modi should be left to choose his cabinet at his discretion, but said it hoped the premier would 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 but 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 including eight facing 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.

Transport and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari has four cases, including one charge of criminal intimidation. 

Modi's most trusted aide and president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Amit Shah, faces charges of ordering extra-judicial killings and of extortion dating back to his time as home minister in the western state of Gujarat.  

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

Rakesh Dwivedi, who was appointed to help the Supreme Court with the case, said the judgement stressed the premier should take into account "the fact that the criminalisation of politics destroys democracy".

"They should keep in view the principles of public morality, trust and conventions," he told the NDTV network.

India has a long history of electing MPs with criminal records in a country where millions have traditionally voted strictly along caste and religious lines.

MPs convicted of crimes have customarily 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.

The previous government attempted to reverse the ruling which affected a long list of MPs, but dropped its bid after facing internal dissent and a major public backlash.

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