Decriminalizing politics : Is the highest court being held at ransom?

Sughosh Subramanyam / Guest Author

With more than 4442 criminal cases pending against Members of Parliament and other legislative assembly members, are Supreme Court’s attempts to decriminalize politics in India being sabotaged by a few politicians?

In the year 1985, the Medellin Cartel attacked the palace of Justice, which housed the Supreme Court of Colombia through the M-19 Guerrilla Group to destroy Court documents to stall investigation into Cartel functioning in Colombia. But it seems that there are more insidious ways to intimidate judiciary.  There are umpteen examples in India, wherein certain elements have tried to browbeat Judges to a state of genuflection. Such incidents are nothing but attempts to destroy the independence of judiciary.

Attempts to destroy independence of judiciary is not a new phenomenon, century after century it has manifested in different forms. Perhaps the first instance is of Dr. Bonham’s Case, wherein Lord Coke took the King and the Parliament head-on. Judicial independence is not a cliche conjured up by those who seek to prevent encroachments by the other branches of government. The term is broad, tailored to achieve the essential objective of the separation of powers that justice be rendered without fear or bias, and free of prejudice.

A fresh attempt to breach independence is seeming to blow from down south. In the year 2016 a PIL was filed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court for decriminalizing politics in India.  It is shocking to note that more than 4442 criminal cases are pending against Members of Parliament and other legislative assembly members.  Further it is important to note that there are even cases of 1983 which are still pending before the Trial Court, due to pressure by the public representatives.  In view of the same a PIL was filed to rationalized the trial process so that antecedents of those who enter Parliament/Legislative Assemblies are clear and we do not have hardened criminal representing our democracy. 

As per the report submitted in Supreme Court, 17 cases are pending against Y. S. Jagan Mohan, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. Many of these cases are still at the stage of framing charges.

When this matter was listed before the Bench of Hon’ble Mr. Justice N.V. Ramana in the month of March 2020, the Court ordered to submit a list of Criminal cases so as to gain a broad perspective of the trend in India.  Accordingly, most of the states produced their records of all criminal trials pending under various legislations before the respective states.  Strangely inter alia, the State of Telangana and the State of Andhra Pradesh did not produce any records pertaining to prosecutions under the Special Legislations such as The Prevention of Corruption Act or Prevention of Money Laundering Act etc.  On 10-09-2020, the Court took a stern view that the states were to require to comply orders in letter and spirit and were required to submit all pending criminal cases including those under special enactments.  Further, it was indicated in the order dated 10-09-2020 that the Amicus had submitted before the Court to direct all pending criminal trials to be taken up within next two months and completed within a year on day to day basis.

Thereafter, the aforesaid states submitted their report wherein it was observed that 17 cases against the Chief Minister, Shri Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy.  Aforesaid cases are kept in cold storage since 2011, without any substantial progress. Many of these cases are still at the stage of framing charges.

Before the matter could be heard again, in a very strange turn of events an FIR was filed against the relatives of the Hon’ble Judge before the Anti-Corruption Bureau, Guntur. Within minutes of the FIR being lodged, social media and news outlets were replete with the contents of the FIR. The ACB also did a press release which led to the news becoming sensational and leading to unnecessary and malicious speculation against a sitting judge of the Hon’ble Supreme Court.

There is no gainsaying that there appears to be a link between the two, which needs to be examined for the sake of survival of our democracy. I ask myself and leave the question to readers, whether such attempts to breach independence of judiciary amounts to holding Court at ransom? 

Such attempts foretell a disastrous future wherein Court is rendered fragile by certain elements, who are bent upon destroying this democracy for their personal vendetta. As Justice O’Connor has warned, “[i]n these challenging and difficult times, we must recommit ourselves to maintaining the independent judiciary that the Framers sought to establish.” Because of the inextricable link between independent judges, the rule of law, and democracy, threats to judicial independence necessarily threaten our democratic system. If we do not allow judges to function independently then we are digging graves for our beloved democracy!

(Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Press India.)

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