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.
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.
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.
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.