The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to set up special courts to exclusively try lawmakers and decide the cases expeditiously within a year, in an attempt to put an end to the inordinate delay in the prosecution of politicians.
On a day when the Election Commission, for the first time, called for debarring convicted MPs and MLAs from contesting polls for life, a bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha asked the government to urgently set up special courts to ensure that trials of lawmakers are completed within a year as laid down by the apex court in 2015. The bench said compliance with the one-year deadline had not been possible because regular courts were overburdened and it was not possible for them to fast-track cases against politicians.
Justices Gogoi and Sinha said the Centre should frame a scheme to fund the setting up of the special courts so that states are spared the burden of finding resources.
During the hearing, the Election Commission supported a life ban on convicted MPs and MLAs from contesting elections and told the court that such a law was needed to curb the growing menace of criminalization of politics.
During an earlier hearing, the bench had pulled up EC for not taking a stand on the issue and asked how the commission could afford to be silent on it. “Can you afford to remain silent? Is silence an option?” the bench had asked.
Clarifying EC’s stand, senior advocate Meenakshi Arora and lawyer Mohit D Ram said the poll watchdog had already recommended to the Centre to amend the law to incorporate a life ban provision against convicted lawmakers, which at present is a six year ban after completion of sentence. The Centre, however, refused to take a stand on the issue and told the bench that the matter was under consideration and the government was examining the recommendations of the Law Commission and EC for imposing a life ban on convicted MPs and MLAs from electoral politics.
Appearing for the Centre, additional solicitor general A N S Nadkarni said there had not been a single case where a convicted lawmaker had entered legislative bodies after completion of sentence. The petitioners, however, countered his stand saying that Phoolan Devi had become MP after completing her jail term.
On the setting up of special courts, Justices Gogoi and Sinha pointed out that on average 4,200 cases are handled by each of the 17,000 subordinate courts as they emphasised the need to set up special courts to implement its order for speedy disposal of cases against lawmakers “in the country’s interest”.
“A 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 issue of appointment of judicial officers, public prosecutors, court staff and other such requirement of manpower and infrastructure (which would depend on the availability of funds from the central government) will be dealt with by the court, if required, by interacting with the representatives of the respective state governments,” the bench said.
Not satisfied with his excuse, the bench said, “On the one hand you are making a commitment but on the other hand you are washing your hands of it.”You can set up special courts under central schemes. It is in the interest of the nation and you have enough resources.”
The court also directed the Centre to furnish data on criminal cases against 1,581 lawmakers and how many of them were acquitted or convicted in the last three years.