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New Delhi: The Centre has told the Supreme Court that it proposes to set up 12 special courts to try a total of 1,581 criminal cases pending against legislators across the country.

In an affidavit, the centre said that Rs65 lakh would be required for setting up each of these courts, bringing the total up to Rs7.8 crore. These would be set up for a period of one year to fast track disposal of cases against legislators.

“The scheme envisages setting up for 12 special courts for a period of one year to dispose cases against political persons at an expenditure of Rs7.8 crore. On 8 December, the Department of expenditure, ministry of finance has given-in-principle approval for the same," said the 14-page affidavit.

The move is significant because it was one of the main poll promises made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the election campaign of 2014. Modi had promised that if elected to power, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would find a mechanism to fast track cases against politicians, especially Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs).

Reiterating its commitment to act against politicians with criminal cases, the government had asked home minister Rajnath Singh and law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to find ways to fast track these cases.

The Centre, however, sought more time to collate information on the status of these 1,581 cases from 2014 onwards involving MPs and MLAs, including information on how many of these had been disposed of within a year and how many had ended in conviction or acquittal

On 1 November, a bench comprising justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha directed the centre to set up special fast-track courts to deal with pending cases against legislators. It gave them a timeline of six weeks to submit the scheme for setting up such courts along with the costs.

The Election Commission (EC) had told the court that it supported decriminalization of politics through a lifetime ban on members of Parliament and legislative assemblies, who at present can contest elections even after being convicted in criminal cases.It also submitted that recommendations of the EC and Law Commission for lifetime disqualification of politicians convicted in criminal cases were under consideration by the government.

The court was hearing a plea by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesman and advocate Ashwini Kumar. He challenged the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which bars convicted politicians from contesting elections for six years after having served the jail term.

The plea also sought a direction to the centre and the EC to fix minimum educational qualifications and a maximum age limit for election candidates.

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