NEW DELHI // India's top court ruled yesterday that politicians should be thrown out of office if they are convicted of a serious crime, in a judgement that was hailed as a major step towards cleaning up the political system.
The Supreme Court said state and federal lawmakers would be forced to quit politics and barred for life from standing in elections if found guilty of a crime that carries a sentence of at least two years in jail.
"If a person has no right to vote [if convicted of a crime], he has no right to contest," Judges AK Patnaik and SJ Mukhopadhyay ruled.
About 160 politicians from various parties in the national lower house of parliament are facing a range of criminal charges, along with more than 1,400 politicians from state legislatures, according to campaign group the Association for Democratic Reforms.
"This is a milestone for Indian politics," said Anil Bairwal, the association's national coordinator. "If you are convicted of a crime from now on, you don't have the right to be in politics.
"It's a significant step towards cleaning up politics."
The ruling comes as the government of the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has been rocked by a series of graft scandals involving mobile-phone licences, coalfields and the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, among other issues.
Millions of people took to the streets last year to protest against the scandals amid seething anger at endemic corruption in politics and across the wider public sector.
The ruling could have a big impact on of state and national elections next year, Mr Bairwal said.
The court ruled that politicians convicted of a crime could no longer remain in office pending an appeal, a process that can take years in India's notoriously slow and backlogged legal system.
Their disqualification "takes place from the date of conviction", the judges said. The ruling only applies to convictions from now on.
The ruling followed a petition from several activists.
Politicians currently face a range of criminal charges, ranging from rape to kidnapping and corruption, according to the association.