The Chief Justice of India’s instruction to High Courts and the Supreme Court to expeditiously hear cases pending for over five years is indeed a welcome move. So is the apex court’s directive to the Centre to set up special courts to fast-track cases against politicians, particularly legislators. A disturbing 33 per cent of our nearly 4,860 MPs and MLAs have declared criminal cases against them.
Twenty per cent of them, an analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms shows, are serious criminal cases. Fast-tracking of these cases in a special court could go a long way in securing convictions, which in turn could help shake up the ‘system’.
A convicted person is now barred from contesting elections for six years. The Election Commission has sought a life ban. The Supreme Court has sidestepped that issue for the time being. It has restricted itself to the core of the issue: that is, Indian democracy has not covered itself in glory by electing lawmakers with criminal and corruption charges pending against them.
Will fast-tracking cases help? Only partially. Unless political parties are dissuaded from fielding such candidates, there can be little hope. A new batch of criminally tainted candidates may well replace the convicted ones, or their clan members may step in. The special courts also need to have proper infrastructure so that the process of justice delivery is not short-circuited for quick results.
Our courts have an astounding backlog of cases, criminal and civil; vacancies in the judiciary are equally glaring. A judicial setup cannot come into being from thin air, so a plan of action with a deadline may make sense. As for the EC’s recommendation for a life ban, one needs to ask: do we jail convicts to reform them or to keep them away in a permanent quarantine-like state in pursuit of a ‘sanitised’ society? For a swachh politics, these basic issues need to be deeply thought over before we rush into decisions.