‘Why not increase this number’: SC on special courts for tainted lawmakers

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The Supreme Court on Thursday observed that the government must consider increasing the number of special courts constituted for exclusively trying criminal cases against former and sitting Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs). At present there are 12 such courts constituted by the Central government.

The observation came from a bench of Justices NV Ramana, Surya Kant and Hrishikesh Roy while hearing a PIL filed by BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking expeditious trial against MPs/MLAs facing criminal charges and debarring tainted legislators for life.

It was on December 14, 2017, the Central Government constituted 12 special courts. Accordingly, high courts were directed to transfer cases against MPs and MLAs to such special courts. The States/UTs where 65 or more such cases are pending were to get a special court, as per the policy introduced by the Centre

As a result, Special Courts were set up in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi and three special courts at magisterial level in Maharashtra, Kerala and Delhi.

The Court was informed that presently a total of 4,442 criminal cases are pending against sitting and former legislators in various courts across the country. This data was compiled by various high courts and sent to the court-appointed amicus curiae senior advocate Vijay Hansaria who then compiled it in the form of a report and presented to the Court.

Hansaria stated in his report that 2,556 cases out of 4,442 relate to sitting MPs and MLAs where trial is pending at various stages. There are 413 cases in respect of offences punishable with imprisonment for life of which in 174 cases sitting MPs/ MLAs are accused. Other cases involve offences under Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act, Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), Arms Act; Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, defamation (under Section 500 IPC), cheating (under Section 420 IPC) and willful disobedience/ obstruction of orders promulgated by public servant (under Section 188 IPC).

He cited a case from Punjab where a trial court framed charges in a murder case of 1983 against a former MLA after a gap of 36 years in 2019. Though Hansaria did not disclose the former legislator’s name, records revealed that the case related to former Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MLA Virsa Singh Valtoha who is accused of murdering a renowned doctor of Patti town in Tarn Tarn.

Similarly, Hansaria read out a case from West Bengal where in a 1981 case, charges are yet not framed. West Bengal has one special court at Barasat for exclusively trying cases against MPs/MLAs. In this court, 131 cases are pending and in most cases, charges are yet to be framed. “In many cases remarks have been made as ‘ER of WA’, i.e., Execution required of warrant of arrest,” Hansaria told the Court. He also read out similar instances from Uttar Pradesh where two criminal cases at Lucknow, dating back to 1991 and 1993, are at “Appearance” stage, indicating that the trial is yet to begin, Hansaria added.

Advocate Sneha Kalita, assisting Hansaria, told HT, “There is one special Court each in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and West Bengal. This is a factor for delay in trial as investigating officer, witnesses have to travel huge distances to attend trial. If special courts are increased within these states, trial can be expedited.”

Another area of concern was the stay on trial ordered by higher courts. Hansaria suggested that the high courts and the Supreme Court have stayed the trial in 352 cases for an indefinite period. The court said it will consider this suggestion by the amicus on the next date of hearing.

In Delhi, 87 sitting legislators and 31 former legislators are currently facing trial. Hansaria said, “The number of legislators involved is more than the total number of cases since there are more than one accused in one case, and the same legislator is an accused in more than one case. Also some of these cases have been transferred from different states to Delhi and pertain to legislators in other states.”

The state of Nagaland and Sikkim and the Union territories of Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu have no criminal cases pending against lawmakers.

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