The Supreme Court favoured on Wednesday the creation of special courts to exclusively deal with criminal cases involving politicians and their speedy disposal, saying such a move would be in the “interest of the nation”.
Directing the Centre to place before it a scheme in this regard, the top court asked it about the 1,581 cases involving MPs and MLAs, as declared by the politicians at the time of filing of their nominations during the 2014 elections, and the details of how many of them have been disposed of within one year as per its directions passed in 2014.
It sought details of how many of these 1,581 cases have ended in conviction or acquittal of the accused, the number of criminal cases lodged against politicians from 2014 till date as well as the data on disposal of these matters.
A bench comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha made the remarks after the Centre said decriminalisation of politics has to be done and it was not averse to setting up of special courts to deal with cases involving politicians and expeditious disposal of these matters.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Atmaram Nadkarni, representing the Centre, told the bench that the government was “not averse to setting up of special courts and quick and early disposal of criminal cases involving politicians”.
He said that recommendations of the Election Commission of India (ECI) and the Law Commission favouring life-time disqualification of politicians convicted in criminal cases was under the “active consideration” of the Centre.
When Nadkarni said “Government of India’s stand is that decriminalisation of politics has to be done,” the bench shot back, “Can there by any other stand?”
The apex court then referred to a report put forward by one of the parties and asked the Centre that as per details of nominations filed by politicians during 2014 elections, there were 1,581 cases pending against them. The Centre said it would furnish the details as sought by the court.
When the bench said these special courts would deal exclusively with criminal cases involving politicians, the Centre asked whether these courts could be combined with the special CBI courts which already exist across the country.
“No, do not combine it with anything else,” the bench said, adding “it is in the interest of nation”.
Observing that the average number of cases each court in the country was dealing with currently was over 4,000 in subordinate judiciary, it said unless a judicial official deals exclusively with cases involving politicians, it would be difficult to complete the trial of within a year.
“We direct the competent authority of the Union of India to place before the court the following information: how many of 1581 cases involving MLAs and MPs (as declared at the time of filing of the nomination papers to the 2014 Elections) have been disposed of within the time frame of one year as envisaged by this Court by order dated 10th March, 2014 ....
“How many of these cases which have been finally decided have ended in acquittal/conviction of MPs and MLAs ...,” the bench said.
It also sought to know the details of whether any further criminal cases were lodged against any present or former MP or MLA from 2014 till date and details of their disposal.
The bench asked the Centre to place before it a scheme for setting up of special courts and said it should also indicate the amount of funds that could be earmarked for it.
The top court was hearing petitions seeking to declare the provisions of the Representation of People (RP) Act, which bar convicted politician from contesting elections for six years after serving jail term, as ultra vires to the Constitution.
The bench also said the issue of appointment of judicial officers, public prosecutors, court staff and infrastructure for these special courts would be dealt with by it, if needed.
When Nadkarni sought six weeks time to place the details sought by the court, the bench posted the matter for hearing on December 13.
The court also observed that the issue it was dealing with, could be resolved by setting up of such special courts.
During the hearing, the ECI supported the plea seeking life-time disqualification on politicians convicted in criminal cases and said it has already made recommendations on this to the Centre.
“We support the plea that disqualification should be for life,” the EC’s counsel said, adding that the poll panel has already written to the government to bring in appropriate amendments to the law in this regard.
The Centre told the court that the petitioner has not given a single illustration that any convicted politician has made a come back to either Parliament or the state Assemblies after being convicted in criminal cases and serving the six- year disqualification period.
While Advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay had filed a PIL in the matter, several others have moved the top court as intervenors.
The apex court had on July 12 pulled up the ECI for not taking a clear stand on a plea seeking barring of convicted politicians for life.
The Centre, in its affidavit, had said the prayer sought by the petitioner seeking life-time bar on convicted lawmakers was not maintainable and the plea should be dismissed.