The Supreme Court of India, furious at the slackness of our system in dealing with criminals in politics had put forward solutions at different times.
However, the facts pointed out by the apex court the other day make it clear that no progress has been achieved in the matter. It has been quite long since debates started regarding a political system eliminating criminals completely. But no headway has been made so far even in the matter of punishing criminal MPs and MLAs. Now, seized of the seriousness of the subject and for this very reason, SC has suggested establishing fast track courts that can achieve quick disposal of cases related to political criminals. As a major step toward this, SC has also ordered formulation of a plan to be submitted within six weeks. These courts are to be set up in the states, and SC therefore has asked for the scale of expenses for buildings and human resources including judicial officers, public prosecutors and court staff. The bench has also drawn attention to the fact that just because of the delay from the part of courts criminals go scot free and struct about in the political scene which is against national interest. In view of the current workload of lower courts, there is no way other than to put in place such alternative mechanisms. Although the lower courts numbering around 17,000 do dispose of 4,200 cases a year, they have no way to give priority to cases involving politicians.
According to the statistics of Election Commission, in 2014 criminal cases were pending against 1581 legislators including MPs and MLAs. What the Supreme Court wanted to know was how many of them were disposed of. The government does not have exact figures of how many fresh cases were charged either. There is no use glossing over the fact that when it comes to punishing the culprits among politicians, nearly every one is least interested. And it is a fact accepted the world over that our country has the dubious distinction of having the maximum number of criminals in the political scene. At the same time when rulers or those occupying key positions in several developed or developing countries have gone behind bars following cases of sexual crimes, nepotism or corruption, in our country even outright criminals in politics can walk around in disdain and disregard of the law of the land. There are of course exceptions like Chautala, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Sasikala. When the Election informed SC of its agreement with the suggestion that those convicted of criminal offences should carry life ban for contesting elections, the central government is unable to express a clear position in that direction. So much for their insincerity in the subject. Even earlier, EC had submitted before the apex court that effective legislation is essential to disqualify criminal politicians from public life. But the situation has little changed.
Although there has been some headway in the path of ‘struggle’ initiated by the Supreme Court for making politics free of crimes, it should be overtly admitted that no progress has been achieved. When such cases come before the court, there will some hue and cry for a few days. However, the government as well as the Election Commission do not keenly come up with steps to accomplish the cleansing process. The Supreme Court during the hearing of the Lily Thomas case in July 2013 had stated that the MPs and the MLAs should be disqualified from their posts the moment they are convicted. The court even struck down the provision that cancels the disqualification if the convicted lawmakers file an appeal within 90 days against the conviction and sentence. During the hearing of the Public India Foundation case of 2014, the apex court had ordered disposal of cases such as corruption and heinous crimes involving the elected peoples’ representatives within a year. The latest directive to put in place a special court system comes in recognition of the fact that the suggestion failed to prove feasible. The government very well knows that many political biggies will have to spend time behind the bars if the order is effectively implemented; the question that still remains is whether it would be committed to the justice system.