There may be a glimmer at the end of a very long tunnel. It is also a really dark tunnel, to go by the law commission report submitted to the Supreme Court. The report says that since 2004, 18 per cent of the candidates contesting either the state or national elections had criminal cases pending against them. And between 2004-2013, 1,187 of the more than 5,000 candidates facing serious charges won in the polls. Although there is nothing new in the information that a lot of legislators have had dubious dealings, the actual numbers are quite unnerving. But a possibility of ridding the nation of legislators with criminal charges has come with the Supreme Court taking a stand, in response to a petition filed by a non-governmental organization. At present, candidates already convicted are prohibited from contesting elections for six years from the date of conviction. The court has also asked the Centre to respond to the law commissionís recommendation that candidates against whom charges have been framed a year before the elections be barred from contesting. But most important, the Supreme Court has directed trial courts to complete the trials of sitting members of parliament and the legislative assemblies within a year of the framing of charges. It is a bit of a scandal that MPs and MLAs with charges against them continue in their positions for their entire tenure simply because the judicial system in India is so slow. It is this joy that the Supreme Court has decided to curtail, holding forth the hope that a big step in cleansing criminality and corruption will thus be taken.
This order comes in the wake of similar decisions taken in 2013, of which one was that any legislator convicted of a crime that would lead to a two-year imprisonment should be disqualified immediately. These are all positive steps, but they require the full commitment of all the relevant institutions. And these include all the courts, from the trial courts right up to the Supreme Court. Only if the courts give priority to cases that affect the governing of the nation can they be disposed of within a year. Cleaning up the political arena would also mean better governance; issues like clean air and the distribution of food, for example, should not have to be taken up by the judiciary. When each institution actually does its own job, propriety, efficiency and balance are the inevitable results.