The Supreme Court on Thursday approved the Centre’s proposal to set up 12 special courts across the country to try “1581 criminal cases” pending against legislators, and directed that they be made operational by March 1, 2018. The court also gave the government two months’ time to inform it about the status of the pending cases.
The government had proposed two special courts to try cases against MPs, besides one each for Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
After perusing the Centre’s plan, a bench of 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… Immediately after such allocation is made and intimated to the respective state governments, the state governments in consultation with the High Courts will set up the Fast Track Courts (12 in all) to ensure that the said courts start functioning from March 1, 2018.”
The Supreme Court directed the government to “forthwith” allocate the Rs 7.6 crore earmarked for these courts proportionately to the respective states. It also asked High Courts to “trace out from case records, cases pending which are required to be dealt with by these special courts and assign them to the special courts for adjudication”.
The apex court had on November 1 asked the Centre to come up with a scheme for setting up these courts. The court was hearing a PIL filed by Delhi BJP leader and advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, seeking a lifetime ban on convicted politicians from contesting elections.
During the November 1 hearing, the court had asked the Centre to apprise it how many of the “1581 criminal cases” pending against MPs and MLAs “as declared at the time of filing of nomination papers to the 2014 elections” were disposed of within one year as directed, how many of them had ended in acquittal or conviction and whether any new criminal case had been filed against any MP of MLA after 2014.
During the hearing on Thursday, the government submitted that it did not have the data and sought more time, saying it was trying to get the information from states and High Courts. The bench consented, giving the government two months.
The petitioner wanted the court to direct the Election Commission to seek information on pending cases directly from the MPs and MLAs, but the bench turned this down. The court also refused to entertain prayers that 12 courts would not be sufficient to try the “1,581 cases”, saying “let it not get blocked because you visualise more. This is not the end of it. Let it be set up. Then we will see how it goes.”
Appearing for the Centre, Additional Solicitor General Atmaram Nadkarni submitted that the scheme was planned as a tentative measure and may be suitably modified once data on the pending cases is obtained.
The court said it would take up the petition next on March 7 to consider the main question of lifetime ban on convicted politicians.