SC seeks trial for tainted netas
Seeking the status of action taken in connection with the 1993 N N Vohra Committee Report and its scathing remarks about the criminalisation of politics with the existing nexus among politicians, criminals and bureaucrats – the Supreme Court of India, on Tuesday, categorically recommended that the disproportionate assets cases against MPs and MLAs ought to be fast-tracked and asked the government to prepare a full-proof mechanism to conduct an enquiry against those tainted politicians – who had a phenomenal rise in their assets. An Apex Court Bench of Justices J Chelameswar and S Abdul Nazeer asked: "What happened after the Vohra Committee Report? Is it not high time we did something about it? Less than two per cent spend on judiciary and infrastructure; other than Industrial Tribunals, there hasn't been any specialised tribunals created. Why doesn't the Parliament legislate and sets up a special court? Fast track courts are required for expeditiously trying corrupt politicians so that they do not enjoy the fruits of their office or use their influence to prolong the trial and benefit from that." The Court further observed that it has become a common phenomenon in the last two or three decades, where, the lawmakers take a giant leap in power at the moment investigation is initiated for possessing wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income. Hearing a petition filed by NGO Lok Prahari seeking a mechanism to investigate the sources of income of politicians, the Double-Bench said that the mercurial rise in the assets of politicians just within a span of five years between two successive elections was definitely either a product of ineffective investigation or of some 'immunity' provided to them. "Income under each head should be probed. The public needs an answer. It is not enough that a legislator discloses a legitimate source of income. It is important to inquire that how did the person get in that position to earn that income. Why should information relating to the representatives of the people, who are public servants, get immunity," the court asked straightforwardly. Attorney-General K K Venugopal responded that prompt criminal action for disproportionate assets must be taken whenever the source of income of an MLA or MP is found to be flawed. He also pleaded that the MLAs and MPs would claim discrimination if their income tax details were alone made liable for disclosure. Income tax details are exempted under the Right to Information Act. Questioning as to why the income-tax returns of elected lawmakers and those wishing to contest for public office should remain a secret, Justice Chelameswar said: "Yes, they (MLAs and MPs) would naturally claim discrimination. But should they form a class within a class?" However, during the hearing, the Attorney-General himself admitted that knowing the PAN details of political parties might not assure a foolproof income tax investigation into their assets, stating, "In case of political parties, businessmen who contribute to them do not want their names revealed and that's why they do not make any cheque payments." The court further said that the inquiry under the Representation of the People Act must be different from a normal probe into assets. The court was dealing with a PIL which has sought, among other things, probes into such affidavits to find out if assets were proportionate to the known sources of income of the candidates. The petitioner had urged the court to include another column in the affidavit on the sources of income listed in the declaration. The affidavits have currently been referred by the Election Commission to the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) for a probe. The petitioner has cited figures from the Association of Democratic Reforms – an intervener in the case, to claim that the wealth of candidates from one election to another had in some instances gone up by 1,000 per cent. It may be noted that the CBDT affidavit indicated that 98 MLAs and seven Lok Sabha MPs are under investigation for a prima facie discrepancy between their assets and declared sources of income, besides pending investigation into the assets of 42 MLAs and nine Rajya Sabha MPs. The CBDT affidavit said that the investigative arm of the Income Tax department has found that the assets of these lawmakers are disproportionate from their known sources of income. The affidavit comes after the court made several stinging remarks about how the government machinery is not very proactive when it comes to revealing details of the unpredictable increase in assets of politicians.