In a first, the Supreme Court Wednesday directed the Centre to constitute special courts to exclusively try criminal cases involving politicians. A bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha said: “Insofar as setting up of Special Courts are concerned, setting up of Special Courts and infrastructure would be dependent on the availability of finances with the States… the problem can be resolved by having a central scheme for setting up of courts exclusively to deal with criminal cases involving political persons on the lines of the Fast Track Courts which were set up by the central government for a period of five years and extended further, which scheme has now been discontinued.
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 bench, which was hearing a petition filed by BJP leader Ashwani Upadhyay seeking lifetime bans on convicted politicians from contesting elections, accepted Additional Solicitor General Atmaram Nadkarni’s request to give the Centre six weeks to submit details of the scheme. The matter will now come for hearing on December 13.
During the hearing, the Centre drew the court’s ire for saying that though it was in favour of special courts trying cases against politicians and their speedy disposal, the constitution of such courts was primarily the responsibility of the states. “You say you have no opposition to fast track courts. Same time you say states have to set up… On one hand, you are making a commitment and at the same time, you are washing your hands off,” Justice Gogoi said.
The court also referred to a report submitted to it which said there were 1,581 criminal cases pending against lawmakers at the time of filing nominations to the 2014 elections and asked the government to inform it about the status of these cases. In an order dated March 10, 2014, the Supreme Court had directed that the cases against legislators be expedited and disposed within a year.
“How many of 1,581 cases involving Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and Members of Parliament (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 passed in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 536 of 2011. How many of these cases which have been finally decided have ended in acquittal/conviction of MPs and MLAs, as may be,” the court said. The bench also wanted to know if any new criminal case had been lodged against any present or former MP or MLA between 2014 and 2017 and its status.
Underlining the need for special courts, Justice Gogoi referred to the workload of trial courts across the country. At any point of time, each court was handling as many as 4,200 cases, he said. “We will not go into what is optimal. But 4,200 is much above optimal,” he said, adding that even if the Supreme Court says that the courts should dispose of cases in one year, that will be possible only if these courts were handling cases involving lawmakers and nothing else.
The judges did not favour the suggestion that the proposed special courts be clubbed with other designated courts like CBI courts. On the question of lifetime bans on convicted politicians, Nadkarni said the government was “yet to take a stand”. The question, he said, was under the active consideration of the government which was all for decriminalisation of politics.
Earlier in the day, the Election Commission told the Supreme Court that it was in favour of a lifetime ban on convicted politicians and had recommended it to the government. The bench said it will deal with the question of appointment of judicial officers, public prosecutors and other staff for special courts by interacting with state government representatives, if necessary, after it receives the central government scheme on setting up these courts.