• The Centre has informed the Supreme Court that it will set up at least 12 special courts to try exclusively criminal cases involving MPs and MLAs.
• Criminalisation of politics has remained a key issue. In 2014, as many as 1,581 lawmakers were facing prosecution in a mind-boggling 13,500 cases.
• It took years, probably decades, to complete the trial against a politician and by this time, he or she would have served as a Minister or legislator several times over.
• On average, 4,200 cases are handled by each of the 17,000 subordinate courts hence there is need to set up special courts.
• The SC had in 2015 laid down that special courts to be set up exclusively to try criminal cases involving “political persons” on the lines of the fast track courts and decide cases within a year.
• However Centre argued that it is not averse to setting up special courts to try criminal cases/offences involving politicians. It was for the state governments to set up additional courts as the issue comes within their jurisdiction.
• Hence setting up special courts would depend on the availability of funds with the States. And this has delayed the overall process.
Recent SC direction
• In November-2017, hearing a PIL which sought a lifetime ban on all convicted politicians, Court made determined effort to cleanse politics of criminality and corruption.
• Countering Centre argument on fund availability for special courts, Supreme Court gave direction to the government to frame a Central scheme for setting up special courts across the country.
• The scheme should give the details of the funds that are required to set up such courts.
• The court also directed the Centre to place before it details of 1,581 cases involving MPs and MLAs, as declared by the politicians at the time of filing their nominations during the 2014 general elections.
• Supreme Court would directly interact with the State governments on issues like the appointment of judicial officers, public prosecutors, court staff and other requirements of manpower and infrastructure for the special courts.
Centre’s response and Scheme
• In response to SC direction, the government, in an affidavit, said it had allotted ₹7.8 crore and framed a scheme to set up the special courts.
• The Centre told the SC today that it will start with 12 such special courts.
• Hence it also sought some time from the Supreme Court to collect data on cases pending against elected representatives across the country, so it can better decide on how many special courts it needs to set up in total.
Election Commission’s view
• SC also pulled up the EC for not taking a stand on the issue and asked how the commission could afford to be silent on it.
• In response, EC said, it had already recommended to the Centre to amend an existing law to incorporate a life ban provision against convicted lawmakers. The existing law calls for a six-year ban after the lawmaker has completed their sentence.
• EC said for the first time that convicted MPs and MLAs must be debarred from contesting polls – ever.
• However the Centre refused to take a stand on the issue and said that the the government was examining the recommendations of the Law Commission and EC for imposing a life ban on convicted MPs and MLAs from electoral politics.
• During a hearing, the EC told the court that a law was needed to curb the growing menace of criminalisation of politics.