Criminal elements have dogged our political system since the dawn of Independence. Why do these elements thrive? The problem is essentially systemic.
Voters tolerate criminal elements in politics because in the words of former Reserve Bank of India governor, Raghuram Rajan, “the street-smart politician is better at making the wheels of the bureaucracy creak,” as opposed to idealists.
However, another reason for their existence is that criminal cases against them remain pending for years. Our judicial system is incredibly inefficient in dealing with them in a time-bound manner.
In response to this problem, and with prodding from the Supreme Court, the Centre said on Tuesday that it would set up 12 special courts to fast-track 1,581 criminal cases pending against lawmakers (MPs and MLAs) from across the country.
According to the affidavit submitted in court, the Centre said that the total cost of setting up these courts would amount to ₹7.8 crore.
These courts will reportedly dispose cases against legislators within a period of one year. The Ministry of Finance has issued its in-principle approval for setting up these fast track courts.
This is a significant step because it was one of the major electoral promises made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his 2014 poll campaign. Modi had promised that if he were elected to the office of the prime minister, his government would find avenues to fast-track criminal cases against politicians, especially elected lawmakers.
Despite their assurance to set up these fast track courts, the Centre asked the apex court for more time to gather more information about the status of these 1,581 criminal cases.
The existing law disqualifies politicians sentenced to a jail term of two years or more from contesting elections for six years from the date of release from prison.
Both the Supreme Court and the election commission are now supporting the idea of a lifetime ban on convicted politicians contesting elections, after initially expressing some ambivalence about it.