Explained: Why fast-track courts are the only hope against criminalised politics

By: | Published: August 23, 2018 2:34 AM

To uphold democracy and accountable electoral representation, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to submit an affidavit, providing details on the functioning of 12 fast-track courts that were to be set up to judge criminal cases against legislators within a year of the the court taking up the case.

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To uphold democracy and accountable electoral representation, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to submit an affidavit, providing details on the functioning of 12 fast-track courts that were to be set up to judge criminal cases against legislators within a year of the the court taking up the case. That 36% of incumbent MPs and MLAs have criminal cases registered against them is a rather telling commentary on the Indian political landscape. As per the Representation of People Act (RP Act), those convicted of crimes are barred from contesting elections, but not from holding positions of seniority within a political party. However, as has been pointed out by a Law Commission report from 2014, the practice of disqualification of contestants has done nothing to decriminalise Indian politics as the rates of conviction are too low and trials themselves are subject to long delays. Thus, the intended deterrent to criminals in politics has hardly had much impact.

The law panel report bats for using the time of the framing of charges to initiate disqualification as an appropriate measure to curb the criminalisation of politics. Even though cases can be politically motivated—the Delhi fast-track court, for instance, cleared AAP MLAs of the Delhi Assembly in 19 of the 22 cases filed against them—if those facing criminal charges are allowed to hold senior party positions even though they are barred from contesting elections, the ramifications could be significant. With the Election Commission of India bound to function within the realms of the existing law, decriminalising politics now rests on how fast-track courts perform. The Supreme Court, though, has been mulling over directing the Election Commission to bar legislators facing criminal charges from using the party symbol in polls pending completion of the trial in such cases. While the Centre has posited that this would be a violation of the principle of separation of powers, the fact is that such a move will not really do much. With such a candidate’s party machinery backing him/her, the party symbol will matter little.

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