More than 200 cases are pending against lawmakers under special laws such as the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Prevention of Money Laundering Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 in different states, the Supreme Court was informed on Tuesday.
The apex court was also told that over a dozen cases are also pending against Members of Parliament or Members of Legislative Assembly (both former and sitting) for offences under the Income Tax Act, Companies Act, Prevention of Arms Act, Excise Act and NDPS Act. The reports submitted to the High Courts’ pursuant to orders dated March 5, 2020 and September 10, 2020 show that 175 cases are pending under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and 14 cases are pending under Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, senior advocate Vijay Hansaria, who has been appointed as amicus curiae told the top court.
The report, compiled by Hansaria in assistance with lawyer Sneha Kalita, said that the analysis of cases pending also show that there is no uniformity as to the setting up of Special Courts for MPs/MLAs throughout the country. On September 10, the top court had asked the High Courts to give details through e-mails by September 12 about the other pending criminal cases against politicians under special laws such as the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and the Black Money law. In the States of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and West Bengal there is one Special Court for all cases against MPs/MLAs.
In the State of Telangana apart from Special Court for MPs/MLAs cases are also pending before Special Court, CBI. In all other States, these cases are pending in respective jurisdictional courts, the report said. It said that there is also no clarity as to the courts which are trying offences under PCA and referred to the examples of Madhya Pradesh (21 cases pending) and Karnataka (20 cases pending) where all these special statute cases are pending before a Special Judge (MP/ MLA) at Bhopal and Bangaluru respectively.
The report which gave the data of pending cases state-wise said that in Telangana, these cases are before Special Judge, CBI at Hyderabad while in Delhi, cases under PCA registered by both Delhi Police and CBI are before the Special Court (MP/MLA). Hansaria suggested that each High Court may be directed to assign/allocate criminal cases involving former and sitting legislators to one judicial officer in each district both for Sessions Courts and Magisterial Courts as Special Court MP/MLA.
The High Courts may be directed to prepare a blueprint for expeditious disposal of the cases not later than 1 year for conclusion of trial. Chief Justice of each High Court may be requested to personally look into the matter and submit an action plan within such time as this Court may deem fit and proper, his report said. He suggested that the High Court reports will also include mechanism for expeditious trial of criminal cases against MPs/ MLAs under special statutes including PCA, PMLA, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, (POCSO), Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, Companies Act, 2013, Negotiable Instrument Act.
Hansaria suggested that the High Courts would designate a judicial officer for all such cases, who shall try these cases on priority basis and the judicial officer can be allotted other work depending on the workload, number and nature of criminal cases against MPs/ MLAs. The judicial officer so designated shall have continuity of tenure for a minimum period of two years, he said in his report.
The senior lawyer said that cases involving sitting legislators be given priority over former legislators and no adjournment shall be granted except in rare and exceptional circumstances on a written application stating the ground of adjournment and for reasons to be recorded. He suggested several other measures for speedy trial of cases against the lawmakers including appointment of nodal prosecution officer and public prosecutor in each district. On September 10, the top court had termed as “shocking” the fact that a trial court in Punjab framed charges against a politician in a criminal case of 1983 after the lapse of 36 years and said that it was the duty of the prosecution to conduct trials expeditiously.
The Punjab case was related to the murder of Dr Sudarshan Kumar Trehan in 1983. Former Shiromani Akali Dal MLA Virsa Singh Voltoha was named as accused in the confession of a co-accused. The top court was earlier told that the politicians are facing criminal trials in 4,442 cases across the nation and out of these, sitting MPs and MLAs are undertrials in as many as 2,556 such matters, sought further information from all high courts about other pending cases against sitting and former lawmakers. It had said that after perusing the details about the pendency of cases against the former and serving MLAs and MPs and may pass directions to the Chief Justices of the High Courts about their fast-tracking on September 16.
The plea filed by advocate Ashiwini Upadhyay has also sought a direction to the Centre to take appropriate steps to debar the person convicted for the offences specified under some provisions of the Representation of the People Act (RPA) from contesting MLA or MP election, forming a political party or becoming office bearer of political party.