India's Supreme Court has ruled that Narendra Modi should be left to choose his own cabinet when considering appointing those charged with crimes, but said it hoped the prime minister would ultimately take into account public expectations and the country's democratic values.
Wednesday's ruling is likely to put pressure on Modi, who swept to power earlier this year pledging clean governance, with over a dozen ministers facing charges for attempted murder, rioting and other offences.
We leave it to the wisdom of the prime minister to see whether people with criminal backgrounds are appointed as ministers.
"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.
The court was handing down its judgement on a petition seeking to bar parliament members 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 politicians from cabinet, the AFP news agency reported.
India bans those convicted of serious crimes from holding office, not those facing charges.
Plagued by corruption
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, eight of those involving serious charges, according to the Delhi-based Association of Democratic Reforms, a clean-up 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.
Amit Shah, Modi's most trusted aide and president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, faces charges of ordering extra-judicial killings and of extortion dating back to his time as home minister in the western state of Gujarat.
Politicians say charges against them are false, trumped up or levelled by political opponents seeking to harm their reputations.
Those convicted of crimes have traditionally continued to hold office simply by filing an appeal in India's clogged and notoriously slow courts.
But in a landmark judgment last July, the apex court ruled that parliament members sentenced to more than three years in jail should be disqualified, regardless of any appeal.
The previous government attempted to reverse the ruling which impacted on a long list of parliament members, but stood down after facing internal dissent and a major public backlash.