UOI v. Association for Democratic Reforms [2002 AIR 2112]

The court addressed the notion that electors have a fundamental right to know the origins of candidates running for public office. The court interpreted the phrase “right to be informed” as a right derived from freedom of speech and expression.

Bench – A D Singh, M Sharma.

Facts – The Association for Democratic Reforms petitioned the Delhi High Court to persuade the execution of certain suggestions concerning how to make India’s electoral process more fair, transparent, and reasonable. The Law Commission generated these suggestions, which stated that the Election Commission should necessitate all candidates to fully disclose backstory data to the community, such as criminal history, academic background, personal financial details, and other knowledge required for evaluating a candidate’s capacity and capability, as demanded by the Government. The High Court of Delhi, presiding that it is not in the benefit of democracy to keep a candidate’s backstory hidden, requested the Election Commission to acquire such knowledge for the purpose of voters. The Union of India appealed the judgement to the Supreme Court, claiming that the Election Commission and the High Court lacked such authority and that voters had no right to such information.

Issues – 

  • Whether the Election Commission has the authority to issue an order for background information of candidates or not?
  • Whether the right to information of electoral candidates is under fundamental right to freedom of expression or not?

Judgment – The Court determined that when the legislature is passive on a specific topic and an entity, such as the Election Commission, has been given execution authority over that subject, the Court presumes that the entity has the authority to issue directions or commands to fill in the gap until an appropriate law on the topic is implemented.

The court also determined that people possess a right to know about public officials, which stems from the idea of free speech and expression and contains the right to know about the contexts of applicants for public office.

The Court reiterated that Article 324 “continues to operate in regions unoccupied by legislation” and that a statute’s silence seems to have no exclusivist impact unless it streams from requisite implication. In other words, the Court’s authority to file directions under Article 324 is unlimited. As a result of the Court’s ruling, the Election Commission can issue appropriate directions to ensure the pureness and transparency of the whole election procedure.

The Court defined the right to know as a right obtained from the right to free speech and expression. The citizens have a right to know about applicants running for office since these rights include the right to carry opinions and obtain information in order to form and disseminate those views across the election process. The Court elaborated on this point by noticing that a successful democracy seeks for a “aware citizenry,” and that inaccurate information or lack of information creates a uninformed citizenry, rendering democracy a sham.

Finally, the Court ordered the Election Commission to release the required instructions to obtain data from the elements of a candidate’s backstory from each applicant for election to Parliament or a State Legislature, including any criminal charges and convictions in the politician’s history, any awaiting cases which hold the candidate as an accused, every property of the candidate, as well as those of his or her partner.