Last week the Supreme Court asked the Government to set up special courts to try criminal cases against politicians. Given that a large number of our netas do tend to have a criminal past, the apex court’s order seems aimed at remedying the situation. On an earlier occasion too it had voiced the idea. As the Association for Democratic Reforms has reported, nearly a third of the present lot of MPs have on-going criminal cases pending against them.

Even if in most cases the charges might pertain to political agitations, such as defying prohibitory orders, the fact is at least 21 percent of the MPs are facing serious criminal charges. It is another matter that in spite of these charges if they still got elected, the  blame must be shared by the voters as well. The problem of nexus between crime and politics being pretty old,  undeniably since the rise of the subaltern classes in the post-Mandal phase  the problem of criminals in politics has assumed serious dimensions. Who does not know of the Bahubalis in Bihar making it to the assembly or the Lok Sabha. Unfortunately, all parties have come to rely on them to bolster their numbers in assemblies and parliament. There are Pappu Yadavs and Shahbuddins galore in politics, especially in Bihar and UP.

And despite attempts to prosecute them on serious criminal charges, including murder, their hold on the voters remains undiminished, an acknowledgment that where the local administration falters these bahubalis are often able to deliver instant justice. Also, some of them play modern-day Robin Hoods, robbing the local haves to distribute partly to the have-nots. But the exasperation of the apex court is justified insofar as the increasing presence of politicians with criminal records further vitiates  the administrative system and prevents the dispensation of justice. Criminal-politicians in various legislatures are able to influence the police and investigations and thus derail prosecutions and judicial trials.

The Second Administrative Reforms Commission in its 2005 report had noted how these politicians get the opportunity to turn police from `adversaries to allies’ once they become MLAs or MPs. As the law stands now, only a politician convicted on a criminal charge  punishable with two years or more in jail forfeits his membership of the House. By a further order, the apex court had barred such a convicted politician from contesting election for six years. For instance, Laloo Yadav currently faces the six-year bar against contesting for the assembly or the Lok Sabha following his conviction in one of the many fodder scam cases against him and other co-accused.

But are special courts really the remedy for disposing of criminal cases against politicians? Experience belies that hope. The SC last week said that at present the judicial system is so slow that by the time a case against a politician comes to actual fruition he ‘would have served as a minister or a legislator several times over.’ Yet, are special courts the answer? We don’t think so. Note that the criminal cases against the accused in the 1984 Sikh killings, including against noted politicians such as Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler, are yet nowhere near the conviction stage. Again, the fast track courts are often as slow as the regular ones, with at least half of them not functioning for want of infrastructure, including in several cases for want of presiding judges. Besides, a special or a fast track court for politicians would not merely entail a dedicated judge, it would also call for a whole supporting infrastructure, including court clerks, police, prosecutors, etc. Without allocating special funds for these fast track courts and for the supporting edifice of clerks, lawyers, investigators, etc., the only other course would be to divert the  personnel from the regular courts and thus delay further the disposal of cases pending in various courts. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the proposed fast tracks for politicians would fail to serve the intended objective. A holistic approach to cleanse the judicial system is needed, not such quick-fixes which the apex court in its zeal to rid the polity of shady characters seems to suggest at regular intervals.

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