The delay of investigative agencies in filing chargesheets no longer raises eyebrows. Referring to complaints against members of parliament and members of the legislative assembly, the Supreme Court recently focused on the unfairness of letting cases hang over the heads of legislators for an unspecified time. A bench headed by the Chief Justice of India reportedly remarked unfavourably on the lack of explanation in the reports of the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate as to why charges have not been framed in allegedly serious cases against legislators for 10 to 15 years. If anything was found in an investigation, charges should be framed; otherwise the case should be closed. The Supreme Court said that it did not wish to demoralize the agencies and was aware of their problems arising from inadequate infrastructure and manpower. They were overburdened, as were the courts — one CBI court reportedly had 900 cases. But that did not account entirely for the inordinate delay in framing chargesheets; it was mentioned that quite a few of the pending cases would call for life imprisonment if proven. Offences under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, too, were plentiful, and the court reportedly felt that the ED showed very little movement. It had apparently attached crores worth of property but had not framed charges.
The Supreme Court’s remarks cut through layers of undesirable practices by investigation agencies that feed into the delay of the justice system. The amicus curiae suggested a monitoring committee which would ensure that investigations are completed within a reasonable time, while the court reportedly asked the solicitor general to find out from the directors of the ED and the CBI what they needed in terms of infrastructure and manpower. The Supreme Court’s stand may act as a spur to the agencies in question; in that case, it can be hoped that chargesheets would be framed in time for all accused, not just legislators. Earlier, the Madras High Court had reportedly said of the CBI that the ‘caged parrot’ should be released from government oversight and made into an independent agency answerable to Parliament. At a time when the scene of alleged crime and detention is so messy as to endanger the people’s trust in the system, the courts’ interventions offer hope of positive change.