New Delhi: A submission made to the Supreme Court has revealed the startling number of sitting legislators who face criminal cases, with the data showing that a whopping 2,556 MLAs and MPs from 22 states are accused in cases. If former MPs and MLAs from these states are also included, the number rises to 4,442.
The submission was made by senior advocate Vijay Hansaria, who is the amicus curiae in a PIL filed by Ashwani Kumar Upadhyay seeking speedy disposal of criminal cases against elected representatives of the parliament and state legislatures. In recent years, with the number of candidates and elected representatives who face criminal cases rising steadily, there has been an increasing outcry against the criminalisation of politics.
The top court was informed on Tuesday that in 174 cases against sitting MPs and MLAs, the offences are punishable with imprisonment life. According to LiveLaw, other cases against elected representatives include offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988, Prevention of Money Laundering Act 2002, Arms Act 1959, Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984, defamation under section 500 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and cheating under section 420 of the IPC.
The submission notes, however, that a large number of the cases are for violation of section 188 of the IPC for wilful disobedience or obstruction of orders promulgated by a public servant.
UP has highest number of legislators facing criminal cases
Uttar Pradesh has the most number of legislators (current and former) who are facing criminal cases. There are 1,217 pending cases, in which 446 cases sitting legislators are accused. Further, 35 sitting legislators and 81 former legislators are accused of heinous crimes which are punishable with a life term.
After UP, the state with the highest number of legislators facing criminal cases is Bihar, where 531 sitting and former MLAs and MPs are accused. Of these, 73 cases relate to offences punishable with life imprisonment (30 cases against sitting legislators and 43 against former legislators).
Kerala (333 cases), Odisha (331), Maharashtra (330) and Tamil Nadu (324) complete the top five states in which sitting and former legislators are facing criminal cases. The complete information furnished by the amicus can be found here.
Hinting that there has not been ‘speedy’ disposal of the cases, the submission notes that a large number of cases are pending at the appearance stage and that even non-bailable warrants (NBWs) issued by the courts have not been executed.
“In large number of cases even charges have not been framed including those punishable with imprisonment for life.”
The amicus said that details of some states have not been provided since “there are few cases” and there are no issues that need to be brought specifically to the notice of the Supreme Court.
Suggestions to ensure expeditious trial
The submission also carried a series of suggestions that could ensure expeditious trial of cases in which MPs or MLAs are accused, including the constitution of special courts in every district to handle such cases. These special courts should then give priority to cases dealing with offences punishable with death/ life imprisonment; offences punishable with imprisonment for 7 years or more; and other offences, in that order, the amicus suggested.
Cases which involve sitting legislators should be given priority over those in which former legislators are accused, the submission added. “No adjournment shall be granted except in rare and exceptional circumstances and for reasons to be recorded… The superintendent of police of [the] respective district shall be responsible to ensure production of accused persons before the respective courts on the dates fixed and the execution of NBWs [non-bailable warrants] issued by the courts,” the suggestions note.
The suggestions note that in cases involving sitting or former legislators, witness protection is essential. In such cases, witnesses are vulnerable due to the influence exercised by the legislators who are facing criminal trials, the amicus noted. In this regard, the Supreme Court’s directions to make the “Witness Protection Scheme, 2018” applicable to all the states till the enactment of suitable legislation by the parliament or state legislatures should be applied, the submission says.
The respective high courts should also monitor the progress made in these cases by registering a suo motu case with the title “In Re: Special Courts for MPs/MLAs” to ensure that the Supreme Court’s directions are complied with, the submission says.
In September 2018, during the final days of then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra’s tenure, the top court refused to bar politicians with pending criminal charges from contesting elections. It instead urged parliament to consider such a disqualification, saying the country “eagerly awaits its decision”.