by Elton Gomes
On Thursday, the Supreme Court (SC) was miffed over the Narendra Modi government’s failure to provide details about the criminal cases that have been pending against lawmakers and politicians in various courts across the country.
A bench comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Navin Sinha, and Justice K.M. Joseph said that the “Union of India is unprepared” as it had failed to give the information sought by the court. “The government is compelling us to pass certain orders which we do not want to at this stage. The Union of India is unprepared. We express our anguish,” said the bench, the Economic Times reported.
The bench carefully examined the additional affidavit that was filed by the government. The affidavit said that, as per the Supreme Court’s direction, the Centre had released funds to 11 states for the setting up of 12 special courts. Replying to the SC’s query over the number of pending cases before such special courts, the Centre said that the Ministry of Law and Justice was “regularly taking up the matter with the concerned authorities for furnishing the information regarding the cases transferred/disposed/pending in the said court(s),” according to a PTI report.
The bench posted that the matter will be held for hearing on September 12. The Centre, in its affidavit, said that two special courts were to be set up in Delhi and one each in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh.
Regarding the SC’s query on whether the Centre proposes to set up more special courts over and above these 12, the affidavit said that the High Courts of Karnataka, Allahabad, Madhya Pradesh, Patna, Calcutta, and Delhi “have informed that there is no requirement of additional special court(s) while the High Court of Bombay has expressed the requirement of an additional court,” a report in Financial Express said.
SC asks Centre for information
A few days back, the Supreme Court asked the Centre to inform it as to how many special courts have been set up to exclusively deal with pending cases involving politicians. A bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi ordered the Centre to inform the court whether these special courts were courts of sessions or magisterial courts, and it also sought details of their territorial jurisdiction. The bench also asked the government whether it intended to set up additional special courts over and above the courts that were already mentioned.
Centre proposes special courts to fast track cases against politicians
In December 2017, the Centre informed the Supreme Court that it will be setting up 12 special courts that will exclusively deal with criminal cases against lawmakers and politicians. In an affidavit filed in the apex court, the Centre said that a scheme has been framed for setting up such courts, and the expenditure for a one-year period will involve an expenditure of Rs 7.80 crore.
The move was deemed significant as it was one of the primary poll promises made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his election campaign of 2014. Modi had made a promise that if he was elected to power, the NDA government would come up with a mechanism to fast track cases against politicians, particularly Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs).
SC greenlights establishing of 12 Special Courts
Days after proposing the plan to set up special courts, the Supreme Court approved the Centre’s proposal to try “1581 criminal cases” pending against legislators. The apex court said that the courts should be made operational by March 1, 2018. The Centre was also given two months’ time to inform the SC about the status of pending cases.
After perusing the Centre’s plan, a bench comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha said, “…a scheme, though rudimentary at this stage, has been placed before the court… the Union of India proposes to set up 12 Fast Track Courts… we direct the Union of India to proportionately allocate the… expenditure… to the different states in which the Special Courts are planned to be located,” the Indian Express reported.
However, PIL petitioner and Supreme Court advocate Ashwini Upadhyay was of the opinion that 12 courts to try 1,581 cases would prove to be highly insufficient. Justice Gogoi replied to Upadhyay’s query and said that “12 courts are not the end of it. But let them start. It is very easy to blame, but to start something is difficult,” according to the Hindu.
Cases against politicians
In March 2018, through an affidavit, the Centre told the Supreme Court that a total of 3,816 criminal cases were registered against 1,765 MPs and MLAs across the country – out of these 3,816, a total of 3,045 cases were pending.
Uttar Pradesh was leading the list with 565 cases against 248 MPs and MLAs, while Kerala had 533 cases against 114 legislators. Third on the list was Tamil Nadu with 402 cases against 178 MPs and MLAs, of which 324 were pending. It has to be noted that no case was registered against any MP or MLA in Manipur and Mizoram.
Apart from this, as per a list released by the Association for Democratic Reform, Maharashtra’s BJP Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had 22 criminal cases against him. Jharkhand CM Raghubar Das had eight cases against him, while Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had four cases.
The list also mentioned that Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh, among others, had criminal cases against them.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius