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Tainted-minister notice to govt

New Delhi, Nov. 29: The Supreme Court today issued notices to the Centre asking why cabinet ministers with criminal backgrounds and dubious track records should not be removed from their posts.

The matter has assumed significance after Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren was re-inducted into the cabinet on Saturday.

The JMM chief had to step down in July after an arrest warrant was issued against him in a 1975 massacre case in Chirudih, Jharkhand.

Initially, he evaded the warrant and went underground. At the height of the crisis, defence minister Pranab Mukherjee and home minister Shivraj Patil had to admit that Soren could not be traced.

Later, Soren surrendered and was arrested. Subsequently, he was released on bail.

Today, a division bench of Chief Justice of India R.C. Lahoti and Justice G.P. Mathur issued the notice to the Centre on on a public interest litigation filed by Virendra Kumar through his counsel Prashant Bhushan, president of the Centre for Public Interest Litigation.

Bhushan said tainted politicians 'misused' the law to delay criminal trial against them after becoming ministers through the compulsions of coalition politics.

Soren's ministerial col- league Mohammad Taslimu- ddin also faces criminal charges.

Kumar's petition said directives should be issued to all states and high courts not to spare the powerful. The court should monitor trial in cases involving 'high public functionaries', the plea added.

It said in Soren's case, there had been a 'complete collapse of criminal justice system' in Jharkhand.

'It appears that the wheel of criminal justice system does not move at all and every strategy is being adopted to delay and frustrate the trial and the state machinery is also being used to seek withdrawal of charges against influential persons (a reference to Taslimuddin and Uttar Pradesh minister Raja Bhaiyya), on absurd considerations,' the petition said.

Kumar sought a direction from the Supreme Court to all high courts to ensure that the trial of influential people is taken up and completed quickly under their supervision.

When the case came up earlier ' before Soren quit the Union cabinet ' the apex court had told the petitioner that 'Parliament is seized of the matter'.

Kumar said Parliament was not debating the matter now and Soren had been re-inducted into the cabinet despite being released on bail.

Allowing 'criminals' to evade charges and become ministers after committing 'heinous crimes is a denial of fundamental rights of other citizens of the country guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution', the petition said.

Kumar said that in Soren's case, the omissions and commissions of the Jharkhand government, police and judicial officials in 'not bringing the respondent no. 3 (Soren) to trial at all and not conducting trial must be the result of connivance and negligence which need to be investigated and persons responsible must be brought to book'.

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