New Delhi: The number of criminal cases pending against lawmakers (sitting and former) has increased in the last two years, despite the Supreme Court monitoring the disposal of such cases, the top court was informed Monday.
In a report filed before the top court, senior advocate Vijay Hansaria stated that in December 2018, these cases numbered 4,122, while in March 2020, the figure rose to 4,442. And, as per the latest data he collated after receiving inputs from various high courts, Hansaria submitted, the cases have now increased to 4,859.
Hansaria’s report was submitted in a petition filed in 2016 by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking speedy disposal of cases against Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs).
A bench led by Justice N.V. Ramana had, on 16 September, directed all high courts to formulate action plans to hasten the trial of pending cases against sitting and former lawmakers. The courts were asked to submit their suggestions and comments to Hansaria, who is assisting the bench as an amicus curiae.
Based on Hansaria’s advice, the bench had further directed the high courts to register suo moto petitions to monitor the trial of such cases in their respective states.
Pointing to an increase of over 700 cases in the last two years, Hansaria said in his report: “It is, therefore, submitted that strict monitoring, at micro level, by the High Courts is necessary to ensure expeditious disposal of the cases against legislators.” Uttar Pradesh topped the list, with 1,347 cases awaiting final disposal, followed by Bihar (557) and Orissa (445), the report submitted.
Courts cite lack of funds, agree to record witness statements on video
Hansaria disclosed details of action plans submitted by the high courts, except two, to ensure the speedy disposal of cases before the trial courts as well as HCs. An analysis, he said, showed that many high courts favoured the constitution of special courts in each district, both at the sessions and magisterial levels.
Some have even favoured trials by respective jurisdictional courts with a mandate to take these cases on priority basis, while a few have suggested zone-wise special courts.
He said all the high courts supported the idea of a safe and secure witness examination room, but they mentioned non-availability of funds and lack of infrastructure as reasons for being unable to provide this facility at the moment.
Apart from accepting other measures suggested by Hansaria to speed up these trials, high courts have also agreed to hold online proceedings of these matters. Hansaria’s report states that most of the high courts have framed rules for video conferencing, while some are in the process of finalising the same.
“Some of the High Courts have sought directions for conduct of trial through video conferencing, where the accused witnesses are of another district/State, without requirement of physical presence of the accused witnesses,” the report stated.
Hansaria opposed Karnataka and Calcutta High Courts’ proposal to continue with just one special court, in the respective state capitals, to hear all such cases. According to him, it would be inconvenient for witnesses to travel long distances to participate in the trial.
Centre fails to give data on ED, CBI cases against lawmakers
The appointment of a nodal prosecution officer and special public prosecutor for each court is another measure the high courts have undertaken to make sure there are no further delays in the cases, the Supreme Court was told. Also, most of the high courts have registered suo moto writ petitions to give suitable directions, as and when necessary, and steps have been taken to list cases where trial court proceedings were stayed.
As for the cases pending before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Hansaria said the Centre had failed to make the data available to him.
“NO status report has been filed by the Union of India with respect to initiation and current stage of cases against the legislators pending before CBI, ED and other central agencies, the grant of sanction and expected time for completion,” his report stated, urging the bench to direct the Centre to furnish information on these matters.
Hansaria mooted the idea of a special website to post details of cases against MPs and MLAs in various courts, including case status, as has been done by the Telangana High Court.