New Delhi: More than 4,000 criminal cases are pending against sitting and former members of Parliament (MPs) and state assemblies, some for more than three decades, the Supreme Court was told on Tuesday.

The court was hearing a petition by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson and lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, seeking a lifetime ban on politicians convicted in criminal cases. Upadhyay challenged the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1951, which bars convicted politicians from contesting elections for six years after serving a jail term.

The plea also sought a direction to the centre and the Election Commission (EC) to fix the minimum educational qualifications and an upper age limit for candidates.

Of the total 4,122 pending cases, there were 1,991 where charges had not been framed in 440 districts across the country, amicus curiae (friend of the court) Vijay Hansaria said in his report on criminal cases against MPs and members of legislative assemblies (MLAs).

As many as 2,324 cases were found to be against sitting MPs and MLAs and 1,675 against former legislators, according to the 24-page report.

Among those named in the report were Karnataka BJP chief B.S. Yeddyurappa and chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, and BJP chief whip in the Lok Sabha Anurag Thakur.

The report gives a state-wise break up of all pending cases against legislators and lawmakers, former and sitting. Uttar Pradesh recorded 992 cases against legislators, the highest among states —followed by Odisha (331) and Tamil Nadu (321).

A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi took the report on record and ordered a speedy disposal of cases in Bihar and Kerala, saying high courts should send cases to a large number of sessions and magistrate courts instead of one sessions court and one magistrate court. It also directed that there should be a procedure for each designated court and that cases against sitting MPs and MLAs whose alleged crimes are punishable by death or life imprisonment should be prioritized.

The petition filed by the BJP spokesperson comes more than two months after the apex court refused to bar candidates facing criminal charges from contesting elections, leaving the matter in the hands of Parliament, political parties and politicians.

As a tentative measure, on 1 November 2017, the SC directed the centre to set up special fast-track courts to try more than 1,581 cases pending against legislators.

According to political scientist Milan Vaishnav’s book, When Crime Pays: Money And Muscle In Indian Politics, 24% of MPs had criminal cases pending against them in 2004 and 12% had serious cases registered against them. By 2014, the numbers had risen to 34% and 21%, respectively.

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