By Poojil Tiwari
A Supreme Court bench comprising of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Naveen Sinha instructed the Centre to put in place special courts for the speedy trial of criminal cases involving politicians. The apex court has asked given the government six weeks to provide the framework for the special courts and has ordered the next hearing on December 13. The court has also asked for details including the clearance rate of the 1581 cases filed against Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) as per data recorded in 2014.
Court calls out centre
Hearing a petition filed by Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) leader Ashwini Upadhyaya, the apex authority reiterated the need for decriminalisation of Indian politics. Calling out the central government for its laxity on the issue, Justice Gogoi said, “You say you have no opposition to fast track courts. Same time you say states have to set up the mechanism for such courts. On one hand, you are making a commitment and at the same time, you are washing your hands off.” The Court’s judgement echoes its 2013 statement, where it had said that while they do not want criminals to enter the portals of the legislature, such a process cannot be ensured without legislation.
The Election Commission has in the past, called for a lifetime ban on politicians that have been convicted under the criminal law. However, its stance on a blanket ban has been largely inconsistent. Such a stringent policy is not unheard of in the Indian law. In the judiciary and the executive, a person is immediately suspended and is prohibited from holding any office in the future if they are found guilty of a criminal offence. At present, 186 of the 543 members elected to the Lok Sabha have been charged with criminal cases. In a large number of instances, the cases are dropped entirely as the charges have not been proved “beyond reasonable doubt.” Currently, only politicians that have been convicted and sentenced to a jail term of two years or more are barred from participating in elections under the Representation of People Act, 1951. Furthermore, this ban only exists for six years from the date of their release from the prison.
Tackling the problem
The problem of rapid criminalisation of politics corresponds with the larger problem of a slow judiciary. Thus, the problem lies on two levels: lax laws regarding the participation of convicted politicians in elections and the extensive time taken by the judiciary. The establishment of special courts is bound to solve the latter. Most politicians continue to participate in elections despite ongoing cases or pending trials. Fast track courts, if implemented properly, shall ensure that legally ambiguous candidates do not become a part of the legislature. Moreover, these special courts are expected to function as normal courts once their cases have been disposed off, reducing the burden on the judiciary. While a mechanism such as speedy courts will no doubt aid in the initial vetting of candidates, the overarching problem remains the same. The government needs to reconsider its laws regarding convicted politicians. In particular, the idea of a lifetime ban needs to be observed and its feasibility and implementation need to be debated upon. The government, however, might possibly be running out of time. With the Supreme Court taking an active interest in this issue, one wonders if a judicial review is on the cards.
Featured Image Source: Google Images
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius