08/29/2014 03:33 pm ET Updated Oct 29, 2014

Fast Track Courts Against Criminal Lawmakers 'Imperative' for Indian Democracy

A wide section of India's politico-legal fraternity has expressed disappointment with the apex court's recent rejection of a proposal to fast track criminal cases against parliamentarians. Though the Court has asked for an alternative plan to expedite the criminal justice process, the question on the table is how effective are fast-track courts (FTCs), and whether they are viable.

Supporters assert that FTCs facilitate quick dispensation of justice, thereby reducing the massive backlog of cases in an overburdened judiciary. On the other hand, critics argue that in the bid for speedy disposal of cases, justice is often a casualty.

In this backdrop, Ananta Aspen Centre, a New Delhi-based Institution, organized a public discussion on "Do Fast Track Courts Work?" today with the country's leading opinion-makers to explore how FTCs could transform India's judicial system. The session featured Former Chief Election Commissioner of India, Dr. S.Y. Quraishi; Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Indian Parliament), Mr. Baijayant Panda and Senior Editor (Legal) of Indian Express, Mr. Maneesh Chhibber, exchanging views on the feasibility of setting up FTCs in the country.

Calling judiciary 'a guardian angel of democracy', Dr. Quraishi asserted,

Since the past several decades, we have seen musclemen and criminals becoming MPs. The reputation of the political class is at rock bottom at the moment, which is dangerous for democracy. We have to do something to clean up the system. India's biggest brands in the world are democracy and elections. However, the large number of criminal parliamentarians in our system is embarrassing. Fast track courts against MPs are indeed required, because lawmakers are fast turning into lawbreakers.

He also urged political leaders to use their moral high ground and refrain from fielding tainted candidates.

"Democracy is compromized if justice is not delivered within a committed time frame. Speedy dispensation of justice would add 2% to India's GDP. We have to ensure justice for all, and in a speedy manner. If criminal MPs are kept out of the parliament, it benefits millions of people," Mr. Panda said. "Since their setup, FTCs have had a clearance rate of 84 percent. We should make a beginning, and not let the perfect override good. This will require heavy public funding as well--according to my back of the envelope calculations, setting up FTCs for cases against elected officials and women only will require an estimated cost of Rs. 32,000 crore."

However, offering a contrarian view, Mr. Chhibber emphasized,

Instead of setting up FTCs dedicated for MPs, why can't we work towards fast tracking the entire judicial system? At present, India has one of the lowest judge-to-people ratio. The situation in subordinate courts is dismal. There are no resources, no staff, and one judge handles multiple cases at the same time. There is also the question of equality -- why should a case of property dispute, for instance, not be disposed sooner?

It may be noted that while shying away from disqualifying tainted MPs, the five-member bench of the Supreme Court of India asked for an alternative plan to speed up the entire criminal justice system. The judgment reportedly stated that disqualifying criminal parliamentarians would "cross the boundaries of judicial review."

The Supreme Court, however, put the onus on the Prime Minister of India and Chief Ministers to refrain from inducting candidates with criminal antecedents in the Government.