Given the number of politicians against whom there is a criminal case registered, it is clear this has become a serious problem. Should such a legislator, for instance, be allowed to sit in an assembly or Parliament and make laws? While disqualifying them is a possibility, surely this cannot be based on a mere charge, but should be done only after the courts have examined all the evidence and ruled on it. This is where the Supreme Court’s direction to set up special courts comes in. In the past too, it has suggested this, but this is the first time it has told the Centre to come up with a concrete proposal on setting up special courts for trying politicians—the direction came in a case filed by BJP leader Ashwani Upadhyay seeking a lifetime ban on convicted politicians from contesting elections.
The problem with the SC’s direction, no matter how well-meaning it might be, is that it is quite impracticable. For one, it is not clear how fast the special courts can clear the cases. In March 2014, for instance, the SC had directed that all cases against legislators be expedited and disposed off within a year. While hearing the Upadhyay petition, the SC asked the government how many of the existing 1,581 cases against MLAs and MPs that were pending in 2014 had been disposed off within the stipulated time frame and also whether any new cases had been registered since and, if so, what was their status? So, if special courts are to be set up now, the question is how many are to be set up—and if there isn’t one in each state, will MLAs and MPs object? Several other questions also come up: if special courts are to be set up in each state, is there enough work to justify this? Assuming this is sorted out, since a final appeal to the Supreme Court has to be allowed, will SC come up with a special mechanism to ensure political cases are heard first? Also, if special courts are to be set up, there will be a need for judges and associated staff and even new premises for them. If this was so easy, in terms of appointing of judges, etc, surely this could be done for existing courts who could, from time to time, dedicate one bench to hear such cases and, when there are no cases, use this bench to dispose off other cases. The idea of quick justice for politicians is certainly a good one, but it needs to be carefully thought through.