The Supreme Court has said that its woefully inadequate infrastructure has led to inordinate delays and called the Parliament to pass a law to set up fast-track courts to dispose cases against MPs and MLAs. The court wants to treat politicians accused of amassing disproportionate assets as a separate category to ensure speedy disposal of their cases.
Should special fast track courts be set up for MPs and MLAs, and will this clean up politics?
Fast-disposal of cases would benefit lawmakers if they are falsely implicated
Supreme Court lawyer
In India, there are many examples of high-profile politicians trying to delay legal proceedings in the cases they are involved in. It’s a phenomenon found across parties. Even the progress of the cases is too slow; at times what starts in the politician’s young age doesn’t end even after his death.
Of course, there are certain examples where conviction has taken place but the time consumed in the process should have been much lesser. Cases involving Lalu Prasad Yadav, Om Prakash Chautala and Jayalalithaa are fine examples.
Being politicians, they are powerful and influential enough to hire top lawyers and try to delay the cases as much as possible and sometimes even get acquitted. This is something I have been fighting for long. In fact, I filed a petition five years ago in which I argued for setting up a fast-track court for the cases relating not only to politicians, but also to influential business persons, film stars and others.
This is not just about politics, but whoever is influential uses similar tricks when it comes to cases filed against them. In my opinion, there must be a fast-track court for such people. I think the lawmakers themselves who will benefit from fast disposal of cases. If they are not guilty and have wrongly been implicated, they would be relieved of the charges in a fixed time rather than facing the case throughout their life.
Some political leaders complain of being wrongly implicated by the government since they are in the opposition. Their claim may have substance, but everyone has a right to file an appeal in the Supreme Court to get justice and hence it shouldn’t come as a hindrance in adopting this new suggestion.
Fast track courts that conclude in time will restore public faith in democracy and politics
MP, Assam, Congress party
Fast track courts should be set up because we want our politics to be free of people with criminal background and charges. Indians deserve politicians with integrity, honesty and transparency. I hope that through these courts, cases will move quicker, and the court can conclude whether a person is innocent or guilty.
Unfortunately, there are instances where leading politicians manipulate the court system to delay a particular judgement, stalling the announcement process of verdict by many years.
This delay should not be accepted by the people and in order to restore their faith in democracy and politics, fast track courts should conclude cases on time. I am confident that with the rising assertiveness of the Indian voter, it will be increasingly harder for a politician with a criminal background or criminal conviction to contest an election. This is the future of Indian politics and sooner the politicians realize it, the better it is for the people of our country.
Research shows that politicians with criminal convictions are more likely to win an election. This is a sad state of affairs and voters should not allow such things to happen. If you look at Europe and North America, minor offenses are enough for a politician who is convicted to withdraw himself from electoral politics. Here in many cases, politicians become even more brazen, which not only calls for fast track courts but also for voters to be more vigilant.
Even in Himachal Pradesh, there are often cases related to the Himachal Cricket Association which are linked to several top leaders of the BJP in the state. Yet the courts have not announced their verdict because of clever legal manoeuvring. This should not be allowed and a special court will allow people to judge in a time-bound manner whether a CM candidate is innocent or has broken the law.
Creating special legal provisions for politicians could make them vulnerable to harassment
Former convenor, Delhi BJP Legal Cell
Decriminalisation of politics is a debatable issue. Creating special legal provisions to deal with politicians could make them vulnerable to harassment and abuse. For instance, to discourage cruelty on women, Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code was introduced, but the Supreme Court has now realised that it is counter-productive and is often misused to blackmail the entire family of the husband. Similarly, SC/ ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, which has stringent provisions, is also being misused by people to get promotion in jobs or to settle personal scores in their offices. Instances of aspiring politicians grossly misusing the SC/ST Act have also come to fore.
Mere trial by a special court should not be a condition to bar someone for life. Even the politician, like others, should be given full opportunity to use all options of appeals. Higher courts are taking more time to decide on appeals.
While there is an urgent need to eradicate the criminal-politician nexus, corruption is a bigger issue, which should be addressed first. Let the cleansing start from the bureaucracy. Crimes such as murder, dacoity, gang-rape or drugs-related incidents cannot be condoned, but some offences where conviction can be based on solitary statement of the aggrieved party can be a double-edged sword. And this is what needs to be revisited.
Also, media trial of the politicians, which certainly affects the judiciary, needs to be curbed.
Fast track courts for MPs and MLAs is not the same as giving them exclusivity
A. K. Verma
Director, Centre for the Study of Society and Politics (CSSP), Kanpur
It is a welcome direction from the Supreme Court to the central government to consider legislation for setting up fast track courts to expedite criminal case trials against people’s representatives, especially in cases of amassing huge wealth after getting elected.
But, fast track courts for MPs and MLAs is not the same as giving them exclusivity. It aims to cater to the sentiments of the people of India who have elected them and who want to be clear about their criminality before they reelect them. This is likely to usher in healthy political and cultural change in our democratic polity.
The fast track courts will not in any way mean a dilution of the procedural and substantive aspect of justice. It will only reduce the time interval between several hearings of a criminal case.
In regular courts, criminal petitions against politicians are clubbed with others; hence, there is a delay in dispensation of justice. In fast track courts, hearing is either on a daily basis or without much delay with the witnesses being tried without splitting the trial.
However, this is expected to be just the beginning. The court is now surely aware of the fact of acute delay in dispensing justice, which may be due to a number of reasons. But, one is inclined to believe that fast track courts are going to be the future face of the Indian judiciary that will differentiate it from the colonial one whose decisions were too legalistic and unnecessarily long. Indian democracy shall become real for the common man once the judicial process from local courts to the Supreme Court becomes fast tracked.
Fast track courts do not violate the principle of equality because there is a measure of urgency in cases involving MPs and MLAs
Former Lok Sabha Secretary
There should be fast track courts because the cases of MPs and MLAs are very important. When they are disqualified, it is the people who elect them that suffer, because they lose their representative in the parliament or state assemblies. From that point of view, this is a great suggestion.
People’s representatives should be persons of integrity and probity. They should have a clean record instead of criminal charges against them. One cannot imagine these people, who indulge in criminal activities, getting elected and remaining in parliament as long as they want because their cases do not get addressed in time due to various factors.
Fast track courts will ensure that there is a speedy disposal of cases against MPs and MLAs. If there are cases against them then there should be an early disposal of such cases so that they are either convicted or acquitted. If they are not guilty they may return to their legislative positions.
Additionally, fast track courts do not violate the principle of equality because there is a measure of urgency in cases involving MPs and MLAs who represent citizens. It is in public interest that these cases should be cleared at the earliest.