Shocked over a criminal case against a Punjab politician pending for 36 years, the Supreme Court on Thursday asked the state government to explain why it was hanging fire for such a long time.
“Why is a case regarding life imprisonment pending for 36 years?” asks a three-judge Bench led by Justice NV Ramana asked during a hearing of a PIL against the criminalisation of politics.
As the Bench took up an affidavit filed by senior advocate and Amicus Curiae Vijay Hansaria, Justice Ramana asked which was the oldest pending case.
“The oldest case is from 1983. It’s from Punjab,” Hansaria said.
“This is shocking! Who is the counsel for the state of Punjab? No one is visible,” the Bench said.
As an advocate appeared on the screen, the Bench sought to know why a case involving life imprisonment was pending for 36 years.
“Are you not responsible for prosecuting criminal cases?” Justice Ramana wondered.
“Yes we are, I will seek information and file a report,” the lawyer said.
As many as 35 sitting and former MPs and MLAs in Punjab were facing criminal cases, Hansaria said in an affidavit filed in the court.
“There are 35 cases (in Punjab), out of which in 21 cases sitting MPs/MLAs are accused,” he said.
The list included one case, each relating to murder and drugs, the affidavit said, adding the proceedings in these cases had been stayed by the Supreme Court.
One of the cases related to a 1983 incident was punishable with life imprisonment in which charges were framed in 2019 after 36 years, it stated.
Haryana has a total of 42 lawmakers — 11 sitting and 31 former MPs and MLAs — who are facing criminal cases while the number stood at 48 in Himachal Pradesh where 35 of them were sitting MPs/MLAs.
The three Union Territories in the northern region — Chandigarh (1 MP), Jammu and Kashmir (1 MP) and Ladakh (6 former MLAs) also figured in the list.
The Bench asked the Centre to respond in six weeks to an amended plea of the petitioner seeking to debar convicted politicians from contesting elections and holding party positions after senior advocate Vikas Singh pointed out that the court had said it will decide this issue of lifetime debarment in the end.
In all, there were 4,442 cases pending against MPs/MLAs (sitting and former) in different courts including Special Courts set up for MPs and MLAs, it said.
“In 2,556 cases, sitting legislators are accused persons. The number of legislators involved is more than the total number of cases since there are more than one accused in one case, and the same legislator is an accused in more than one case. There are 413 cases in respect of offences, which are punishable with imprisonment for life, out of which in 174 cases sitting MPs/ MLAs are accused,” the affidavit stated.
The Supreme Court had in 2015 directed the trial in cases against sitting and ex-lawmakers shall be conducted on a daily basis and concluded in one year from the date of the framing of charge(s).