Law

Create Special Courts to Try Criminal Cases Against Politicians, SC Tells Centre

The court cited a report revealing that in 2014, 1,581 lawmakers in the country had criminal cases pending against them.

Supreme Court. Credit: PTI

Supreme Court. Credit: PTIc

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday (November 1) directed the Centre to set up special courts to exclusively try criminal cases against politicians.

The court referred to a report saying that in 2014, 1,581 lawmakers in the country had criminal cases pending against them, NDTV reported.

The bench comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha said:

Insofar as setting up of Special Courts are concerned, setting up of Special Courts and infrastructure would be dependent on the availability of finances with the States… the problem can be resolved by having a central scheme for setting up of courts exclusively to deal with criminal cases involving political persons on the lines of the Fast Track Courts which were set up by the central government for a period of five years and extended further, which scheme has now been discontinued.

Scheme to give effect to the above may be laid before the Court on the next date fixed, indicating the amount of funds that can be earmarked for setting up of Special Courts.

The court was hearing a petition filed by BJP leader Ashwani Upadhyay, seeking that all convicted politicians be barred from electoral politics for life. As of now, provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, bar convicted politicians from contesting elections for six years after having served their jail term.

On Additional Solicitor General Atmaram Nadkarni’s request, the court allowed the Centre six weeks to submit details of the scheme, Indian Express reported. The court has asked the Centre to detail how much it is willing to spend, whether the 1,581 lawmakers facing charges have been cleared or convicted yet, and how many new cases have been registered against lawmakers.

During the hearing, the Centre said that while it agreed with the proposal of special courts in principle, the responsibility to set them up lies with the states. The bench however disagreed. “You say you have no opposition to fast track courts. Same time you say states have to set up… On one hand, you are making a commitment and at the same time, you are washing your hands off,” Justice Gogoi said.

The Election Commission, earlier ambivalent in court on banning convicted politicians from contesting elections, however came out in support of the idea at Wednesday’s hearing after being reprimanded by the court, NDTV reported. “If you don’t want to be independent, constrained by the legislature, say so,” the bench said. “Either you can say yes or no. Can you afford to be silent?”

The case will be heard next on December 13.

Given the information available in the public domain, few would dispute the imperative need to clean up the electoral system. According to a report from the Association for Democratic Reforms, one in every three MPs elected in 2014 – or 184 of the 542 winners analysed – had declared criminal cases against them. This was higher than the number in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections (158). Maharashtra had the highest number of winners with criminal cases against them, followed by Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Karnataka. “97 (35%) out of 281 winners analysed from BJP, 8 (18%) out of 44 winners from INC, 6 (16%) out of 37 winners from AIADMK, 15 (83%) out of 18 winners from Shiv Sena and 7 (21%) out of 34 winners fielded by AITC have declared criminal cases against themselves in their affidavits,” the report said.

A more recent study from the group also said that as many as 51 MPs and MLAs have declared cases of crime against women, including of alleged rape and abduction. This includes 48 MLAs and three MPs. Giving party-wise details, the study stated that among various recognised parties, the BJP has the highest number of MPs and MLAs facing allegations of a crime against women(14), followed by the Shiv Sena (7) and the All India Trinamool Congress (6) who have declared cases related to crime against women.

(With PTI inputs)