The Supreme Court today asked the government to consider legislating on setting up of new fast- track courts to expedite criminal case trials against parliamentarians and legislators.
The apex court bench, which was given the names of seven Lok Sabha MPs and 98 MLAs across the country by the CBDT whose assets had seen a substantial hike in between two elections, also said it had perused the names of these politicians and will examine the issue.
It said Parliament had the competence to come up with a law and create necessary infrastructure for setting up of such courts for speedy disposal of cases against lawmakers.
"With regard to MPs and MLAs, it falls under the domain of Parliament. It has the necessary competence to come up with a law. Make law and create necessary infrastructure," a bench of Justices J Chelameswar and S Abdul Nazeer said.
The bench said that legislature and Parliament have been coming up with new laws which create different rights and obligations that lead to more cases before the courts.
"Every time Parliament and assembly makes a law, it creates rights and obligations resulting in more cases which are dealt with by the same set of courts.
"Expect for some specific tribunals, no new courts have come up. You (Centre) should create new courts and infrastructure as at present, the Government of India is spending only one or two per cent of the budget (judicial system)," it said, adding that this would also reduce the huge pendency.
The apex court said that inadequate infrastructure in the courts was resulting in pendency and said that Parliament should pass laws and create fast-track courts for speedy disposal of such cases against the lawmakers.
Attorney General K K Venugopal agreed that fast-track courts were the need of the hour and said that some such courts have in the past done an excellent job and several people, especially those in jails, were benefitted by the system.
The court's remarks came on a plea filed by an NGO, Lok Prahari, for creating a permanent mechanism to investigate candidates whose assets have grown disproportionately during their tenure as MLAs or MPs.
The plea claimed that the candidates while filing their nomination papers were disclosing their assets, assets of their spouse, children and other dependents, but they do not reveal the sources of income.
The bench, which reserved its verdict on the plea, said that Centre should stop giving direction to the states for setting up special fast-track courts and instead come up with a law to deal with it.
The AG agreed with the view and said the Centre "cannot direct the states saying you have to do this or that" and instead can only issue advisories from time to time.
The court observed that if a person elected in 2014 as an MP files an affidavit in 2019 elections showing his assets increased exponentially, say 10 times or five times, then the source of such assets needs to be investigated.
Venugopal said that CBDT was serious about the matter and, in arrangement with Election Commission of India, it does investigate the affidavits filed by the candidates if there are any discrepancies.
"Given that revenue augmentation is the primary concern of the Income Tax department, and since increasingly the department is graduating towards non-intrusive methods, the verification of election affidavits is carried out in respect of specific category of such cases as per agreed parameters between ECI and CBDT," he said.
The AG said if the verification by the investigation directorate shows that on comparison of information contained in the affidavits with the returns of income and on further enquiries, there is a case for assessment of income that escaped taxation, the matter is referred to the jurisdictional assessing officer.
The bench expressed satisfaction with the probe done by CBDT and suggested that the cases where there is exponential increase in assets, the source of such assets needs to be looked into.
Venugopal said that once disproportion is found in the assets, the sources are looked into by CBDT, which is a government department rather a statutory body like the CBI.
He said that after the court's intervention in electoral reforms, candidates are now bound to file affidavits declaring their assets and criminal cases against them and if there is any false declaration, then he is liable to be disqualified.
The bench said it had perused the names of politicians against whom investigation by CBDT are underway for acquiring assets disproportionate to their income and will examine the issue.
The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) had yesterday told the apex court that there has been a substantial hike in the assets of seven Lok Sabha MPs and 98 MLAs across the country and "discrepancies" have been found.
The tax department in its affidavit had said that they have probed the allegations by the NGO, probed them and "have prima facie found" that there was a huge increase of assets in case of these lawmakers and the matter would be probed further.
The CBDT's affidavit was filed as the apex court had on September 6 taken strong exception to the Centre's "attitude" of not disclosing information on action taken by it against politicians, some of whose assets had seen a massive jump between two elections.
The apex court had then observed that though the government was saying that it was not averse to electoral reforms, it has not placed the necessary details. Even the information furnished before it in an affidavit by the CBDT was "not complete", it had added.
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