Taking a stern view on the increase in the criminalization of politics, the Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that States cannot withdraw criminal cases filed against lawmakers without prior approval from the concerned high courts.
The court's direction came after senior advocate Vijay Hansaria submitted that prosecution against sitting MPs and MLAs should not be withdrawn without the permission of the state high courts. Hansaria is acting as the amicus curiae in a plea filed by Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay who sought for the set-up of special courts to try cases against lawmakers.
Hours later, another bench led by Justice Rohinton Nariman ruled that websites of political parties must have information about their candidates with criminal antecedents under a separate caption: "Candidates with Criminal Antecedents".
Political parties must upload such information within 48 hours of them choosing to field candidates who have criminal antecedents. The nation continues to wait and is losing patience, Justice Nariman observed expressing his anguish over non-compliance over the top court's 2020 judgment directing political parties to disclose the criminal history of their candidates.
The bench appealed to the conscience of the lawmakers hoping that they will wake up soon and carry out a major surgery for weeding out the malignancy of criminalisation in politics," which was "growing day by day."
Cleansing polluted stream of politics not a pressing concern for Govt
While hearing a contempt matter arising from the November 2020 Bihar assembly elections, the apex court bench led by Justice Nariman expressed its anguish over the government apathy towards the cleansing of the "polluted stream of politics".
"The political parties refuse to wake up from deep slumber... Cleansing the polluted stream of politics is obviously not one of the immediate pressing concerns of the legislative branch of government," the bench had observed. The court's hands were tied due to constitutional constraints that did not allow the judiciary to legislate. Its pleas seeking amended legislation to prohibit the involvement of people with criminal histories had "fallen on deaf ears", the bench added.
The apex court then held eight political parties in contempt for flouting its 2020 judgment on the mandate to disclose criminal histories of candidates they backed during elections.
While the Sitaram Yechury-led Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party were fined Rs 5 lakh each for not complying with the directions "at all", Janata Dal (United), Rashtriya Janata Dal, Lok Jan Shakti, Indian National Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party and Community Party of India were asked to cough up Rs 1 lakh each.
The court said the money will be deposited in a fund set up by the Election Commission of India (ECI) which will then be used to carry out "extensive awareness campaigns to make every voter aware about his right to know and the availability of information regarding criminal antecedents of all contesting candidates".
Prosecutor's Power to withdraw criminal cases cannot be misused for political reasons
In clipping the state's power to withdraw cases against sitting lawmakers, CJI Ramana directed high courts to examine all such cases—pending or disposed of—since September 2020 in accordance with the top court's guidelines.
In his 13th report on this issue of staggering pendency of criminal cases against lawmakers, Hansaria drew the top court's attention to a 17 percent rise in criminal cases against elected representatives. Despite strict monitoring and directions, Hansaria said the high court affidavits revealed a jump from 4122 pending cases in December 2018 to 4859 pending cases in September 2020.
Highlighting instances where state prosecution withdrew criminal cases against politicians, Hansaria said the same could be permitted in the public interest, but this provision could not be misused for political consideration. "Such application can be made in good faith, in the interest of public policy and justice and not to thwart or stifle the process of law," the report had read.
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