As Mizoram, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh prepare for elections and India for general elections next year, criminal records are not likely to be a deterrent to members of Parliament (MPs) and state legislative assemblies (MLAs).
No more than 6% of criminal cases against India’s MPs and MLAs ended in conviction, according to data submitted by the Centre to the Supreme Court.
Of 3,884 such cases–conviction for which results in a six-year ban from contesting elections–guilty judgements were pronounced in 38 and 560 were acquitted, the Centre told the Supreme Court on September 11, 2018.
In 18 of 29 states and two of seven union territories, there were no convictions for criminal cases against MPs and MLAs; the cases include murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, hate speech and criminal intimidation.
The highest number of acquittals were in Kerala (147 acquittals, 8 convictions), Tamil Nadu (68 acquitals, 3 convictions) and Bihar (48 acquittals, 0 convictions).
The highest number of convictions were in Orissa (10), Kerala (8) and Uttar Pradesh (5).
The affidavit was submitted during a hearing of a two-year-old public interest litigation, which demanded a life ban for politicians convicted in criminal cases. On December 14, 2017, the court ordered the Centre to set up 12 special courts to deal with such cases, asking the courts to start working from March 1, 2018.
With a budget of Rs 7.8 crore, courts were established in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal and two special courts in the National Capital Territory of Delhi. The other 19 states and one union territory were to fast-track pending cases.
Six months after the March deadline, 40% (1,233) of these cases were transferred to the special courts, of which judgements were pronounced in 136 (11%); 89% (1,097) cases so transferred are pending.
The highest number of pending cases among the states where special courts were set up was in Bihar (249), followed by West Bengal (226) and Kerala (233).
In Kerala and West Bengal, only one case each has been disposed. In Uttar Pradesh, which had the highest number of cases (565), the special court started functioning on August 21, 2018. In Tamil Nadu, where 402 cases were filed against legislators, the notification for the special court was issued on September 6, 2018.
These cases should be fast-tracked, especially as four state elections (Mizoram, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh) and the Lok Sabha elections will be conducted over the next eight months, Major General Anil Verma (Retired), National Coordinator of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), an advocacy, told IndiaSpend.
In 2014, ADR, along with National Election Watch (NEW), a campaign comprising of 1,200 non-governmental organisations working on electoral reforms, analysed the self-sworn affidavits of 542 of 543 winners in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and found that a candidate with a criminal background was almost twice more likely to win than a candidate with no criminal background. The winning chances of a candidate with criminal background were 13%, while those of a candidate with no criminal background were 5%.
“People feel these legislators with criminal backgrounds have clout, and they are able to get work done from bureaucrats or lower level functionaries of the government,” said Verma, “In rural areas, people do not give too much importance to criminal cases. They think, ‘if he gets our work done, it is okay, we will vote for him.’”
The petition in the Supreme Court argued that current provisions of the Representatives of People’s Act (1951) for convicted legislators are not enough. The petitioner and a spokesperson of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Ashwini Upadhyay, told IndiaSpend that a ban for six years is not enough.
“The bar for legislators has to be set higher than that for other civil servants,” said Upadhyay. “Civil servants are suspended the moment the police files a chargesheet against them and are allowed to resume work only when the court acquits them. But so many politicians continue to hold posts despite several cases against them, including those of rape, kidnapping, murder and hate speech.”
An analysis by ADR in April 2018 found that 48 legislators had criminal cases filed against them for crimes against women. In another report released in April 2018, ADR found 58 legislators have cases registered against them on charges related to hate speech.>