New Delhi

NEW DELHI: Association for Democratic Reforms, an NGO working for electoral reforms, has petitioned the Maharashtra government to repeal a recent amendment the state cabinet had made in the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) making it mandatory for anybody filing an FIR against an MLA or a government official to obtain prior permission from Speaker of the assembly in case of MLAs or the chief secretary in case of bureaucrats. 

The decision is applicable to elected representatives of panchayats and municipalities as well. 

ADR has said that the current amendment made in the CrPC by the Maharashtra cabinet is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees 'equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws to any person within the territory of India.' 

The NGO has been working for electoral reforms in the country. Earlier, it had won a case in the Supreme Court in 2003 making it mandatory for candidates contesting elections of assemblies and Parliament to disclose their criminal and financial antecedents, by way of a sworn affidavit. 

"This decision obviously gives greater protection to MLAs and bureaucrats, and therefore makes them 'more equal' than ordinary citizens," said Jagdeep Chhokar, founder member of ADR. 

According to an ADR analysis of affidavits submitted by MLAs from Maharashtra at the time of election in 2014, 165 of them or 57% of the MLAs had declared criminal cases. About 51 MLAs (31%) had cases where charges had been framed. 

Among all legislative assemblies in the country, Maharashtra is second highest after Jharkhand in the proportion of MLAs with criminal cases. Three of its MLAs had murder and attempt to murder cases against them while 11 had crimes against women. 

The ADR analysis said even in the recently-held local body elections in Navi Mumbai, out of 105 winners, 17 had criminal cases out of which 13 had serious criminal cases. In the Vasai Virar City Municipal elections, 17% out of 102 winners had criminal cases wherein 12 had serious charges. 

"While this amendment to the CrPC is not applicable to Members of Parliament, it is important to note that criminality even among MPs of Maharashtra is alarmingly high, wherein 31 (65%) out of 48 MPs have criminal cases," the ADR said. 

In view of such grave statistics regarding the composition of the Maharashtra assembly and municipalities, further restricting the power of filing an FIR against an elected representative would bode ill not just for legislature but for the very fabric of democracy in the country, it added. 

"This decision limits the accountability of elected representatives and bureaucrats and shields them from the application of law and justice. Elected representatives are repositories of public trust and the sanctity of their position in the legislature can only be upheld through scrutiny and accountability," Chokkar said. 

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