The Centre on Tuesday assured the Supreme Court that it will set up 12 special courts for speedy disposal of 1,581 criminal cases pending against members of the Lok Sabha and eight State Assemblies in 2014. The law makers have themselves admitted to these cases in their poll affidavits.
Additional law secretary Reeta Vasishta submitted in court on Wednesday a 2-page affidavit that two of these courts will handle 184 cases pending against the Lok Sabha members; the scheme envisages one court in each state to deal with criminal cases against MLAs — the highest being160 each in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, followed by 141 in Bihar.
As many as 44 Rajya Sabha members have also admitted to pending criminal cases but Vasishta’s affidavit is silent on which court will hear their cases. A final decision is awaited in case of West Bengal where 107 MLAs face criminal cases; Kerala has 87 pending cases against MLAs and there are 67 pending in Telangana.
No special courts are proposed in 21 states, including Gujarat, where 54 MLAs face criminal charges and Odisha and Jharkhand with 52 cases each. The affidavit was filed in response to the Apex Court’s order on November 1, asking the government to come up with a roadmap for setting up the special courts, in response to a PIL by Delhi lawyer Ashwini Upadhyaya of the BJP, who wants convicted politicians barred for life time from contesting polls.
The government opposed the life ban sought by the petitioner while stating that the recommendations in this regard by the Election Commission of (ECI) and the Law Commission were under “active consideration.”
The government was reminded of an earlier top court order that fixed a time limit of one year for the trial courts to dispose of cases against politicians. The affidavit failed to provide the information the court had sought on the number of cases disposed of within the time frame of one year. Nor did it furnish data about any new criminal case lodged against any present or former legislators between 2014 and 2017.
It said the government had tried to get the information from the election watchdog, which expressed its inability to provide the data. Even the NGO that provided the figures did not have the information, it said. It told the court it has initiated action by seeking to collect the requisite details from the state governments.
At present, a lawmaker found guilty of a criminal offence punishable by two years or more in jail immediately loses the membership of Parliament or state assemblies.