It is heartening that the Supreme Court has given the green signal for the Centre’s scheme to set up special courts to exclusively deal with 1,581 criminal cases pending against Members of Parliament and members of State Legislative Assemblies. The Narendra Modi government deserves to be commended for this worthy move. The apex court’s directive to the Centre to allocate Rs 7.8 crore to the states for setting up these special courts should pave the way for this bold initiative.
It, however, needs to be seen whether it is not too ambitious to make these courts operational by March 1, 2018 as the apex court has targeted to do. Even more ambitious is the intent to clear all these cases within a year. The experience with special courts has been none-too-fulfilling in the past with adjournments being the main culprit in causing delays. But, if the Centre and the country’s apex court are determined to make this possible, it is a happy sign. This is a challenge to the State governments to respond expeditiously and to not succumb to vested interests by cooking up excuses.
The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petitioner and Supreme Court advocate Ashwini Upadhyay said in apex court that 12 courts were not enough to try 1,581 cases and Rs 7.8 crore were too little to prosecute “criminal” politicians, but the court has advised that the process be started. After the money is disbursed, the onus will be on the State governments to adhere to the March 1 deadline for making them operational. All required notifications shall be issued by the concerned State governments, the Supreme Court ordered. Significantly, at the next hearing on March 7, 2018, the court will also deal with the issue of imposing a life ban on convicted politicians from contesting elections.
There is indeed no denying that there is a dire need for cleaning up public life which has suffered grievous damage in recent years. Corruption and criminality have seeped into the system insidiously and need to be checked. However, any move to control these would be half-hearted if deterrent action is not taken to check these negative trends. The politicians must realise as a class that people at large are losing faith in their elected representatives and that erosion of faith is striking at the roots of democracy. If no remedial action is taken, the system itself will face upheaval.
The Centre has indicated that two special courts would handle cases against 228 MPs and the other 10 would be set up in 10 states — Andhra, Bihar, Karnataka, Kerala, MP, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, UP and Bengal—where the number of MLAs booked for criminal acts is more than 65. The decision to set up special courts would be a setback to politicians who, despite facing serious charges, have remained members of Parliament and state assemblies due to time consumed in trials. But the need of the hour is to frustrate the designs of criminal lawmakers to scuttle or render ineffective setting up of and speedy clearance of cases in special courts.