New Delhi: The Supreme Court Thursday said it was “surprised”, “shocked” and “sorry” to know that over 4,000 criminal cases were pending against sitting and former lawmakers — both members of parliament (MP) and members of legislative assembly (MLA). Some of these cases date to as far back as the 1980s, the court said.
A bench led by Justice N.V. Ramana was hearing a PIL filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, who has sought a lifetime ban on politicians convicted in criminal cases, from contesting elections.
“So many cases are pending at the initial stage because of influence of legislators (FIRs are not filed) and they (legislators) hang the sword over investigations,” Justice Ramana remarked during the hearing.
In March, the court had directed all 24 high courts to provide data on criminal cases that are pending against current and former MPs as well as MLAs. Senior advocate Vijay Hansaria and lawyer Sneha Kalita, who are assisting the bench as amicus curiae, were told to collate data, prepare a report and apprise the court regarding status of the pending cases.
Hansaria’s report, submitted earlier this week, stated that a total 4,442 cases are pending against MPs/MLAs in different courts, including in special courts that were set-up subsequent to a top court’s 16 January 2018 order.
In 2,556 cases, sitting legislators are accused persons. Trials in 352 cases have been stayed either by a high court or the top court itself.
“The number of legislators involved are more than the total number of cases since there are more than one accused in a case, and the same legislator is an accused in more than one case,” the report submitted.
Taking note of the report, the bench said it will hear Hansaria at length on 16 September. The top court also said it will look into the modalities that he has suggested to fast-track the decision-making process in such cases.
The court further asked all high courts to furnish specific data on corruption cases, after Hansaria said only four high courts have given this information.
Oldest case nearly 40 years old
The bench Thursday was also told by the amicus curiae that the oldest case, filed in 1983 in Punjab, was still at the trial stage. In another case filed in West Bengal in 1981, the charges are yet to be framed.
According to Hansaria’s report, charges are yet to be framed in most of the 131 cases in West Bengal, where 101 are against siting legislators.
The court reacted to these observations by saying that it was “shocking”.
Uttar Pradesh tops this list with 1,217 prosecutions still pending against sitting and former MPs/MLAs. Three cases registered in 1991, 1993 and 1994 have not even reached the trial stage, according to Hansaria’s report.
In Bihar, which, with 531 cases, has the second highest number of criminal prosecutions, the court noticed that trial in the oldest case, filed in 1991, was yet to commence. The second oldest case pending in the state is from 1993, where evidence is still being recorded.
“This is really surprising and shows a sorry state of affairs,” remarked Justice Suryakant, another member of the bench.
Another revelation made in the report was with regard to over 100 cases in Kerala where charges have not been framed, though they relate to incidents from 2012 and 2013. Kerala has 333 cases against politicians, out of which 310 involve sitting lawmakers.
“In several cases, charge sheets get delayed because politicians are able to influence investigation,” observed the court.
Urgent need for more courts
According to Hansaria and Kalita, there is an urgent need to have exclusive courts so that expeditious trial of cases against politicians can take place.
At present, there are 12 special courts in nine states — Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Delhi.
It has also been suggested that at least two special public prosecutors be nominated to conduct cases in the special courts. No adjournment should be granted, except in rare and exceptional circumstances. The superintendents of police of the respective districts should be made responsible to ensure production of accused persons on the dates fixed.
Use of technology should be encouraged to examine witnesses and appearance of accused, the report has recommended.
According to the amicus, witness protection is essential in all such cases. The report further advises that each high court register a suo-motu case to monitor the progress of pending cases.