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Pile-up but not limited to leaders

New Delhi, March 11: Criminal cases against legislators drag on for an average seven years and, in some instances, for decades — a piece of statistics that stands out against the backdrop of yesterday’s Supreme Court order to trial courts to dispose of such complaints in a year.

A report by the National Election Watch, which analysed election affidavits filed by candidates in the run-up to the 2009 general election, reveals that some cases were pending for nearly three decades.

According to the law, lawmakers accused in criminal cases can enjoy the privileges until they are convicted. So, any delay works in the lawmakers’ favour even if any of them is eventually found guilty.

However, the pendency of such cases has not prevented parties from fielding such candidates and the voters from electing them. As many as 24 MPs who had criminal cases registered against them in 2004 were not only given tickets by their parties but also managed to win the polls.

Some of the charges such as rioting are related to political agitation, and governments in power are often accused of filing false cases against Opposition figures. So, mere registration of a case does not mean culpability.

Out of the 543 Lok Sabha MPs, 162 have declared criminal cases against them in their affidavits to the Election Commission in 2009. Collectively, they have declared a total of 306 serious charges under the IPC against themselves. The MPs of the JMM have declared 69 serious IPC counts followed by BJP MPs who have listed 55 serious IPC counts.

While Samajwadi Party MPs have declared 34 serious IPC counts, Congress MPs have 30 serious IPC counts against them.

Some of them, like the JMM’s Kameshwar Baitha, MP from Palamau in Jharkhand, had 46 cases pending against him between 1989-2008. Till 2009, the cases pending against him included 22 charges related to attempt to murder and 17 charges related to murder — most of the cases have been pending from anywhere between 10 and 20 years, with conviction in none.

Another MP from Jahanabad in Bihar, Jagdis Sharma of the Janata Dal (United), has six cases registered against him with 17 charges relating to counterfeiting, fraud, cheating and breach of trust. All his cases are pending for 13 years. Pendency in courts is not limited to cases relating to MPs. Nearly 19,000 judges, including 18,000 in trial courts, are dealing with 3 crore cases, resulting in some civil cases being stretched out over 15 years. Nearly 30 per cent of the cases or around 1 crore cases are over five years old.

According to the Supreme Court’s National Court Management System, pendency can register a five-fold increase to touch 15 crore in the country’s courts in the next three decades.

It was only last year that a local court in Ballia in Uttar Pradesh disposed of one of the oldest pending cases in the country — a 76-year-old land dispute case filed in 1936. The court directed 11 persons to return 600 acres to another person for Rs 807. A Bengal property dispute involving a royal family, has been pending for 175 years.

As far as politicians go, a decade is not too long for a case to go on. Five Lok Sabha MPs have declared 14 cases of murder which have been pending for 10 years or more. A JMM candidate has declared 10 cases of murder against himself which have been pending for an average of 12 years. Guddu Premchand of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh has declared a case of murder which has been pending for the longest — 29 years.

Nine Lok Sabha MPs have declared a total of 14 cases of attempt to murder that have been pending for more than 10 years.

Other cases of kidnapping and wrongful confinement have been pending against 20 Lok Sabha MPs who have a total of 30 such cases registered against them. Congress MP Suresh Kalmadi has declared a case of wrongful confinement for three or more days, which has been pending for 28 years.

Even cases of robbery and dacoity have been pending in the courts for years. Samajwadi MP Ramkishun has declared a case of robbery which has been pending for 24 years.