As many as 2,556 cases are pending against sitting MPs and MLAs, which include 174 cases where the maximum punishment prescribed for the offence is life sentence. In 352 cases, trial has been stayed either by the SC or HCs. Among chief ministers, Telangana’s K Chandrasekhar Rao leads the tally with 64 criminal cases, followed by Andhra Pradesh’s Y S Jaganmohan Reddy with 38 criminal cases.
A bench of Justices N V Ramana, Surya Kant and Hrishikesh Roy asked chief justices of each HC to formulate an action plan on requirement of special courts for exclusive trial of criminal cases against sitting and former legislators while keeping in view the following parameters: total number of pending cases in each district, number of special courts required for speedy trial, existing number of special courts, number of judges and subject categories of the pending cases, tenure of the judges to be designated, number of cases to be assigned to each judge, expected time for disposal of cases, distance between the designated courts and requirement of infrastructure.
The bench also reminded the HC CJs about the 2018 SC judgment, which had ruled that if a stay on trial granted by the HC was more than six months old, then the trial court could proceed with the trial as if there was no stay. It requested the CJs to forthwith take up petitions of sitting and former legislators and either vacate stay or decide their pleas within two months by resorting to day-to-day hearing. “Covid-19 condition should not be an impediment to compliance of this direction, as these matters could be conveniently heard through video conferencing,” it said.
This order came on a PIL filed by advocate-petitioner Ashwini Upadhyay. The Justice Ramana-led bench said, “One of the main objectives behind issuing notice in the present petition, and the various orders that have been passed time to time by this court, was to ensure that criminal prosecutions against elected representatives (MPs and MLAs) 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.
“Additionally, as legislators are repositories of the faith and trust of their electorate, there is a necessity to be aware of the antecedents of the person that is/was elected. Ensuring the purity of democratically-elected institutions is thus the hallmark of the present proceedings. 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.”
Amicus curiae Vijay Hansaria and advocate Sneha Kalita had compiled data on criminal cases pending against legislators, sitting and former, sent by each HC. Hansaria had suggested that it would be appropriate to set up a special court, exclusively for trial of criminal cases pending against present and former legislators, in each district. Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioner, had suggested that each HC should determine the number of special courts required to speedily conclude trials in criminal cases against legislators.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta had suggested that all HCs, which have stayed trials in cases against legislators, must decide the petitions within a month. He said the Centre had already released funds for setting up the requested number of special courts, but most states had not sent fund utilisation certificates. He said central agencies like the CBI and ED would pursue matters effectively and ensure that all pending investigations against legislators were taken to their logical end expeditiously.
The SC had pointed out that another reason for delay in trial was the non-grant of timely sanction for prosecution of accused legislators by the appropriate authority and that many trials were stalled because of absence of sanction for prosecution. The SG said he would file a status report regarding the stage of pending investigations against sitting and former legislators in CBI/ED cases, pendency of sanctions for prosecution and the expected time for completion of probes.