NEW DELHI: There has been "no substantial improvement" in disposal of pending criminal cases against sitting and former lawmakers, the Supreme Court has said, directing chief justices of high courts to submit an action plan for rationalization of special courts to deal with these matters.
The apex court, which emphasised on the need for expeditious disposal of criminal cases against former and sitting elected representatives, observed that as legislators are "repositories of the faith and trust of their electorate" there is a necessity to be aware of their antecedents.
"Ensuring the purity of democratically elected institutions is thus the hallmark of the present proceedings," a bench headed by Justice N V Ramana said in its Wednesday's order uploaded on Thursday.
"However, despite all the initiatives taken by this court in the present petition, there has been no substantial improvement in the situation when it comes to the disposal of pending criminal cases against sitting/ former legislators (MPs and MLAs)," said the bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hrishikesh Roy.
The top court passed the order in a petition which was filed in 2016 and raised the issue of inordinately delay in disposal of criminal cases against former and sitting lawmakers.
The bench said that one of the main objectives behind issuing notice in the petition and various orders passed by the court from time to time was to ensure that criminal prosecutions against elected representatives are concluded expeditiously.
"The court was of the opinion that such special consideration was required not only because of the rising wave of criminalisation that was occurring in the politics in the country, but also due to the power that elected representatives (sitting or former) wield, to influence or hamper effective prosecution," the bench said.
The bench asked the chief justices of all high courts to forthwith list before an appropriate bench all pending criminal cases involving sitting and former lawmakers where stay was granted.
"In the event that a stay is considered necessary, the court should hear the matter on a day-to-day basis and dispose of the same expeditiously, preferably within a period of two month, without any unnecessary adjournment," it said, "It goes without saying that the COVID19 condition should not be an impediment to the compliance of this direction, as these matters could be conveniently heard through video conferencing," the bench said.
The court said now it is well equipped with information and data collected from various high courts and looking at the suggestions made by senior advocate Vijay Hansaria, who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and other lawyers appearing in the matter, it is better placed to assess the existing situation.
Referring to supplementary report filed by Hansaria, assisted by advocate Sneha Kalita, the bench said it indicated that about 175 cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and 14 cases under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 are pending against sitting or former lawmakers.
"These are in addition to the 4,442 criminal cases indicated to be pending as per the earlier report of the amicus dated September 8, 2020," the bench noted.
"With respect to increasing the number of special courts and rationalizing the pending criminal cases, we deem it appropriate that, before passing any specific direction in respect thereto, it would be appropriate to direct the chief justice of each high court to formulate and submit an action plan for rationalization of the number of special courts necessary, with respect to the following aspects," it said.
The bench said these aspects are -- total number of pending cases in each district, required number of proportionate special courts, number of courts that are currently available, number of judges and the subject categories of the cases, tenure of the judges to be designated, number of cases to be assigned to each judge, expected time for disposal of the cases, distance of the courts to be designated and adequacy of infrastructure.
The bench said while preparing the action plan the chief justices of high court should also consider as to whether transferring the cases, where trials are going in an expeditious manner, to a different court would be necessary and appropriate.
"The chief justices of the high courts shall also designate a special bench, comprising themselves and their designate, in order to monitor the progress of these trials," it said, It said that action plan, along with comments and suggestions of chief justices of high courts, be sent to secretary general of the apex court preferably within a week.
"We further request the chief justices of all the high courts to list forthwith all pending criminal cases involving sitting/former legislators (MPs and MLAs), particularly those wherein a stay has been granted, before an appropriate bench(es) comprising of the chief justice and/or their designates," it said.
It said the court must first decide whether the stay granted, if any, should continue keeping in view the principles regarding grant of stay enshrined in an earlier judgment delivered by the apex court.
The bench, which posted the matter for hearing after two weeks, said it would pass directions at an appropriate stage regarding other suggestions made by the amicus.